By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA —A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, granted an interim order awarding ownership of controversial Oil Prospecting Licence, OPL 245, owned by former Minister of Petroleum, Chief Dan Etete, to the Federal Government, pending conclusion of investigation and prosecution of oil giants allegedly involved in the $1.2 billion Malabu oil bloc fraud.
OPL 245 is regarded as one of the biggest oil blocs in Africa.
Trial judge, Justice John Tsoho made the order following an ex-parte motion the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, filed before the court.
The court directed the Federal Government to take possession of the disputed oil bloc pending conclusion of investigation and prosecution of Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Ltd; Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd; Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd; Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd and other individuals named in connection with acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering.
The court ordered the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR to manage OPL 245 on behalf of the Federal Government.
EFCC in the suit told the court that its investigations revealed that Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd and SPDC secured OPL 245 through fraudulent scheme involving high scale bribery and corruption by top management of the company.
In a 21-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one of its operatives, Mr. Ibrahim Ahmed, EFCC stated: “That Italian Police have also conducted extensive investigation on the fraud allegedly committed by Shell Nigeria, Agip and Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd culminating in a criminal charge at the ordinary Court of Milan.
“That the Italian Police in the charge are prosecuting Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Eni Spa and one Scaroni, who was its Managing Director; Descalzi was also the General Manager Exploration of Eni. Copy of the charge is hereby attached and marked as exhibits EFCC 4.
“Those also being prosecuted are one Casula and Armana, who were senior executives of Nigeria Agip Oil Company and one Pegano, who was the Managing Director of Nigeria Agip Oil Companies; one Dan Etete (former Minister of Petroleum) and other co-conspirators.”
EFCC stressed that though it initially preferred charges against Etete and seven others, the government had concluded plans to also charge Shell Nigeria and Nigeria Agip Exploration with conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering.
How it started
Tracing the origin of the case, EFCC told the court that OPL 245 was awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas against all known government regulations in 1998 by late military dictator, General Sani Abacha.
It said the company contracted Shell Petroleum and SNEPCO in a joint venture scheme to operate the licence given to it by Abacha in collaboration with Etete and Nigerian Ambassador to the United State of America between 1996 and 1999, Hassan Adamu.
“That to the knowledge of Shell, the allocation of the Oil well and the procedure adopted by the owners of Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd was fraught with fraud but went ahead to consummate the transaction.”
It said government on July 2, 2001, withdrew the title and allocation of the oil bloc to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd on the directive of then Presidential Adviser on Petroleum to President Olusegun Obasanjo, after which it was re-allocated to Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Ltd.
Though Malabu sued the Federal Government over the revocation, the matter was subsequently settled out of court and the said oil well returned to the plaintiff.
Nevertheless, EFCC told the court that Shell and Agip again went into a fraudulent agreement with Malabu Oil and Gas in which the companies will pay signature bonus of $210m to government, while the sum of $1.2bn would be paid to the owners of Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd.
It said the $1.2bn was bribe paid to Etete and his cronies, adding that Shell was at that time aware that the ex-Petroleum Minister and owner of Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd was already a convict.
It alleged that immediate past Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, SAN, conspired with Shell and Agip to route the bribe money through Federal Government Escrow Account with JP Morgan Chase Bank in London.
“That sometime in May 2011, Nigeria Agip Exploration and SNEPCO instructed Chase Bank to release the said $1, 092, 040, 000 into Escrow Account of the Federal Government.
“That the said money, on the instruction of the then AGF, Adoke, was transfered from the Escrow Account to two banks namely First Bank and Keystone Bank operated by Dan Etete and Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd. The said amount was later laundered with several accounts of individuals and different companies.”
EFCC said its investigation further revealed that government was defrauded by SPDC and Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd by under paying the sum of $210m as signature bonus on OPL 245.
It will be recalled that EFCC earlier slammed a nine-count criminal charge against the former AGF, Adoke and eight others over the oil bloc scam.
Other defendants in the case are Etete and an oil mogul, Mr. Abubakar Aliyu.
Six firms- Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd, Rocky Top Resource Ltd, Imperial Union Ltd, Novel Properties & Development Company Ltd, Group Construction Ltd and MegaTech Engineering Ltd, were also joined as defendants in the matter.
Justice Tsoho, following the motion moved by EFCC lawyer, Mr. Johnson Ojogbane, issued an order directing that the controversial property be managed by DPR on behalf of the Federal Government.
“Likewise an interim order directing that the property known as OPL 245 be managed by the DPR on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution of the said Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Ltd, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd, Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd, Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd and other individuals named in connection with acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering mentioned in the schedule attached to this Summons.”
The court ordered government to go and put all the affected parties on notice and adjourned hearing on the substantive suit till March 3.