A new investigation has uncovered evidence that former Nigerian Oil Minister Dan Etete used money from Shell and Eni's deal for a massive offshore oil block to buy luxury property in Dubai
At Global Witness we have been looking at corruption and how it works for over two decades, and we have learned a thing or two in that time.
We know, for example, that the lifecycle of a corrupt official almost always has three distinct parts. First, they steal the money, usually using an anonymous company to cover their tracks. Second, they move the money into the international financial system using a bank or a money manager of some sort to help them along. The smartest of the criminals have learned to hedge their bets and choose a couple of different locations into which to move their dirty money. That means that if one doesn’t work out, they always have a backup plan. Third, they move themselves and their family offshore to a luxurious and exotic bolt-hole to enjoy the spoils of their stolen funds whilst also protecting themselves and their assets from reprisals.
This is a pattern we have seen time and time again – a tried and tested way for the criminal and corrupt to get the most out of their stolen loot. It means that the money flows and corporate networks that arise from these dirty deals end up all around the world.
That’s why we’re not surprised to learn that the former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete has been named in previously unseen property files that have been reported on today by C4ADS, Finance Uncovered and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. It makes perfect sense to us that someone like Dan Etete, a convicted money launderer with expensive tastes would look to the ritziest parts of Dubai to stash some cash and invest in a luxury property… or two.
Certainly, Etete would not be the first person looking to hide dirty cash in Dubai. In 2015 the UK’s National Crime Agency identified the United Arab Emirates as the number one jurisdiction used to launder UK criminal assets.
In Etete’s case, the figures are not certain, but it looks as though he may have spent millions of dollars buying and furnishing an apartment in the Dubai Marina, as well as a mansion in an exclusive area dubbed the “Beverly Hills of Dubai”. It sounds like he may have been in interesting company with this particular property portfolio – reportedly sharing a neighbourhood with members of the Mugabe, Shinawatra, Bhutto and Gupta families.
And how might he have come across the funds for these extravagant investments? While in office as Nigeria’s oil minister in 1998, Etete awarded the license to a lucrative oil block – known as OPL 245 - to Malabu Oil and Gas, a front company set up five days earlier in which he held an ownership stake.
In 2011 oil giants Shell and Eni paid an account set up by Nigerian officials US$1.3bn for the license of this oil block, with US$1.1bn earmarked to be paid on to Malabu. Out of the money paid to Malabu at least US$520m was turned into cash and distributed as bribes to senior Nigerian officials according to the criminal case being brought by Italian authorities.
In 2017, Global Witness and Finance Uncovered revealed that Shell executives knew that $1.1bn they paid for OPL 245 would go to Dan Etete and were likely to be used in a vast bribery scheme.
Antonio Secci, Etete’s lawyer in Italy recently told Bloomberg there is no proof that there was corruption or “that Malabu corrupted Nigerian officials”. Shell, Eni and their executives who are all standing trial in the landmark case have all denied wrongdoing.
Today’s new investigation from Finance Uncovered and the OCCRP also reveals another murky angle to the business networks Etete utilised. The money changer he used to send his money to Dubai, a company called Gunes General Trading LLC, has also been named by US authorities as part of an international network used to move hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transfers by sanctioned Iranian entities.
The case has attracted headlines not least because the Mueller investigation in the US has reportedly been looking into whether former Trump administration National Security Advisor Michael Flynn met secretly with Turkish officials to discuss a way to free Reza Zerrab, one of the alleged masterminds behind the money-moving network.
As for Etete, he is reportedly being hunted by Nigerian authorities who have charged him with corruption and money laundering offences for his role in the OPL 245 deal. He is also facing corruption charges in Italy in a trial scheduled to resume on 20th June.
But what of the stolen money? New agreements between Nigeria and the UAE to work together to track criminal suspects and their assets come into effect this month. Etete’s Dubai properties should be a test case to show whether Nigerian and UAE authorities can act quickly to ensure that the corruptly obtained assets are recovered for the benefit of the Nigerian people.
The discovery of Etete’s high life in Dubai and his involvement in an international money-laundering network illustrates why we campaign for transparency around the purchase of property and better due diligence by banks around the world.
We’ve seen some success in our campaigns to date - the UK government has promised to force all overseas companies that own UK property to declare who the actual people behind the company really are. Stopping anonymously owned companies from being able to buy property will help ensure that London is no longer a safe haven for the criminal and corrupt to stash their dodgy cash.
However, what this leak shows is that the corrupt hedge their bets and spread their wealth, which is why we work to expose the safe havens and the systems that enable the corrupt and the criminal to hide away their stolen loot – wherever they are in the world.