The controversy over the Malabu Oil Block(OPL 245) won’t just go away, with President Muhammadu Buhari rejecting Attorney-General Abubakar Malami’s proposal on how to resolve the impasse.
Buhari is insisting on the continuation of the criminal proceedings against some suspects implicated in the OPL 245 scandal.
The President has also directed the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Department of Petroleum Resources to stay action on the development of the oil well.
The OPL245 is an offshore oil block with about nine billion barrels of crude. It was auctioned for $1.3 billion (1.1 billion euros).
Although the Federal Government received only $210 million as Signature Bonus, about $1.092 billion was traced to a London bank account.
The cash was suspected to be slush funds allegedly used to bribe some middle men and politicians.
A former President is accused of benefiting about $200 million from the deal.
But there are concerns that the controversy over Malabu oil block has been lingering since 2001 (17 years) and there is need to resolve it.
The AGF on September 17, 2018 advised the President on four issues related to the oil block.
The AGF’s advised:
- discontinuation of the civil case on OPL 245 in a Milan, Italy court and payment of the counsel hired by the Federal Government for his services;
- discontinuation of all criminal matters in Nigeria in connection with the oil block;
- A recommendation to the President to allow the relevant agencies to sign Heads of Agreement with Eni and Shell; and
- Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the Department of Petroleum Resources(DPR) be mandated to begin the process of using the well.
There are cases on Malabu oil block against former Petroleum Resources Minister Dan Etete, former Attorney-General of the Federation Bello Adoke (SAN), former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, some businessmen and top officials of Eni and Shell.
A source quoted the AGF as saying “there was nothing in the proof of evidence to support the charge of money laundering against suspects and it is therefore impossible for the prosecution to prove the elements, which include illicit funds, transfer for such through various channels to re-introduce same again into the regular financial system as legitimate funds in financial institutions etc.”
“He wanted the Federal Government to pursue Nigeria’s possible investment in the disputed oil blocks rather than trying to repossess it or prosecute former Nigerian government officials or Shell or Agip-Eni chiefs involved in the deal.
In an October 29, 2018 response, President Buhari, in a memo through his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, rejected the Attorney-General of the Federation’s proposals on the fate of OPL 245.
A highly-placed source in the Presidency said: “The position of the President is that the law must run its full course on the controversy surrounding Malabu Oil Block.
“The position of the President is that there was no way the government would discontinue all the cases in court when a Milan judge on September 20, 2018 has already sentenced two men – a Nigerian, Emeka Obi, and an Italian, Gianluca Di Nardo – to a four-year prison term. They were both negotiators during the sale of controversial OPL 245.
”They were jailed in respect of alleged international corruption case involving oil giants Eni and Shell on OPL 245. In fact, while the court asked Obi to forfeit $98.4 million, Dino lost 21 million Swiss francs ($21.8 million, 18.6 million euros) in fines.
“The decision of the President is that the anti-graft agency, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should sustain its investigation of the Malabu deal in the light of development from Milan Court.
“He has also insisted that all those facing criminal charges in Nigeria on OPL 245 should be allowed to clear their names once and for all. Buhari believes the probe is not targeted at any Nigerian or multi-national firm but it is better to get to the root of the deal.
“Do not forget that the Federal Government has seized Malabu Oil Block from four oil giants pending the conclusion of investigation and trial of those implicated in the $1.09billion deal. The oil firms are Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (SNEPCO), Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited, Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.
“Also, the President rejected advice to go ahead with Heads of Agreement with Eni and Shell and a recommendation to mandate the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu and DPR to put the block into use. He said all issues must be resolved.”
The EFCC on December 20, 2016 filed nine charges bordering on alleged mismanagement of over $1b Malabu Oil cash against Etete, Adoke, a businessman, Aliyu Abubakar, Malabu Oil and Gas Limited; Rocky Top Resources Limited; Imperial Union Limited; Novel Properties and Development Company Limited, Group Construction Limited and Megatech Engineering Limited.
The nine-count charge was filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
In another charge, the EFCC sued Etete, Adoke, Abubakar and eight others over alleged $801million bribe in respect of the auctioning of Malabu Oil Block.
The others are: Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Limited; Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited; ENI SPA; Malabu Oil and Gas Limited; Ralph Wetzels(ex- Director of SNEPCO), Casula Roberto(Italian) whilst being the Director of AGIP; Pujatti Stefeno(Italian) while being the Director in AGIP; and Burafato Sebastiano(Italian).
All the suspects have denied the charges.
Malabu was issued a licence for OPL 245 on 9th April 2001 but the Federal Government subsequently revoked the licence on 2nd July 2001.
Following the revocation, Exxon-Mobil and Shell were then invited in April 2002 to bid for the same OPL 245 as contractors on a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), despite the existence of subsisting contractual agreements between Malabu and SNUD with respect to OPL 245.
But Malabu faulted the revocation of its licence on Block 245.