Malabu Scandal: Witness Tells Court OPL 245 Deal Not in Nigeria’s Interest

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A founding director of ‘corruption watch dog’, Global Witness, Simon Taylor told a court in Italy that corruption in Nigeria’s oil sector facilitated human rights abuses.

He spoke on Wednesday as prosecution witness at the weekly court hearing of corruption allegations against multinational oil companies; Shell and Eni, at the palace of justice in Milan.

Taylor explained how letters from Department for Petroleum Resources managers said that the OPL 245 deal was not in the public interest.

According to twitter posts by Barnaby Pace, an oil campaigner for Global Witness following the court proceedings, Taylor explained how he first heard about Malabu and OPL 245 in 2002 when Africa Energy Intelligence reported on their connection to Dan Etete.

Taylor explained how Global Witness investigated the beneficial ownership of Malabu where it was suspected Dan Etete had an ownership interest hidden under the fake name of Kweku Amafegha.

Dan Etete was minister of petroleum during the regime of General Sani Abacha and allegedly facilitated the transfer of payment of $1.3bn to a company he had set up, Malabu oil and gas in 1998.

He also allegedly awarded himself the lucrative oil block, OPL 245, for which he paid only $2m of the $20m legally required by the state, Daily Trust reports.

Taylor also told the court in Milan that Global Witness investigations over the last 25 years have shown that, “corruption is the glue that binds the exploitation of natural resources to conflict, environmental abuses and human rights abuses.”

He further told the court that Global Witness saw that a very large sum of money was being paid for a Nigerian State asset that did not go to the government.

He told the court how they started asking shell questions in 2008, concerned whether Shell understood that dealing with Etete would be problematic.

Taylor explained how shell answers to questions in conversations and letters asking about OPL 245 were very general and didn’t answer the specifics.

He explained that in 2012, Global Witness emailed ENI after seeing court documents where Ednan Agaev, an intermediary who sued in New York for a payment he wanted from Malabu out of the OPL 245 deal.

Daily Trust gathered that Global Witness have in the past alleged that Shell executives knew that money earmarked for a controversial oil deal was being used to bribe senior Nigerian officials, a claim rebuffed by the petroleum giant.

The allegations according to statements on its website refer to the 2011 purchase by oil giants Shell and Eni of OPL 245, an offshore oil block estimated to hold 9 billion barrels of crude, for $1.3 billion.

It said the deal saw the Nigerian Government act as an intermediary between the oil majors and Malabu oil and gas, a Nigerian company allegedly controlled by Dan Etete.

Allegations of corruption and bribery have mounted in the years since the deal was signed, forcing Shell and Eni to repeatedly maintain that they acquired the rights to the lucrative block in line with Nigerian law.

Daily Trust Online also gathered that OPL 245 is still being exploited by the same oil companies being prosecuted in Milan, Italy over corruption charges.

They were alleged to have committed financial crimes in about six countries and 15 persons are being prosecuted in Milan, with Nigeria being the victim. The court case continues next week Wednesday.

Already, one Nigerian Emeka Obi and Gianluca Di Nardo an Italian were sentenced to four years prison terms by the Italian court for their roles acting as middle men in the oil deal scandal.

They were sentenced in the first ruling by the Italian court in what is still an ongoing trial spanning about twenty years.

Nine persons were also charged at a Federal High Court in Abuja since 2001 in what is still an ongoing trial.

Global Witness is an International NGO working to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide.

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