The failure of the Nigerian government to send a proceeds-of-crime submission to the judge of a UK court is stalling the recovery of $85 million frozen in a NatWest bank account in London, belonging to Dan Etete, former minister of petroleum.
According to Evening Standard, the inaction by the Nigerian government has left the funds “frozen” and the court case “languishing” .
The $85m is believed to be part of proceeds from the controversial award of the licence of OPL245 — a huge Nigerian oilfield containing an estimated nine billion barrels of crude — in 1998 by Etete to Malabu Oil & Gas, a Nigerian company with no assets and no employees, for $20 million, seemingly a tiny fraction of its real value.
Over the next decade, there were a number of legal wranglings between Shell and Malabu over ownership of the field. Eventually, in 2011, the field was sold by the Nigerian government to Eni and Shell. The two oil giants paid the government but $1.09 billion was subsequently sent to Malabu.
However, Shell and Eni insist they did not know this would happen. The arrangement — memorably described by a middlemen as a “safe-sex transaction” — was controversial enough.
Evening Standard said it was claimed in High Court proceedings that the beneficial owner of Malabu was none other than Etete, the former oil minister who awarded the oil block to Malabu in the first place. Etete denied this, saying he was just a consultant.
Nigeria retained $208 million — the signature bonus paid by Shell — while the remaining $1 billion-plus was channelled to bank accounts in London, Switzerland and offshore locations allegedly controlled by Malabu, Etete and five other Nigerian companies whose beneficial owners were not known.
The OPL245 affair is a major challenge for President Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected last year on an anti-corruption ticket, declaring: “We shall strongly battle another form of evil that is even worse than terrorism — the evil of corruption.”
The newspaper described Buhari’s track record so far as “unimpressive”, saying “his Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) is said to be under-resourced and incompetent”.
“Multiple case files have been opened but are often incomplete or missing, it is claimed.
“Sources say this is frustrating for investigators at Britain’s National Crime Agency, who are trying to probe the alleged laundering of OPL245 money through London banks and properties.
“Last week, the two governments agreed criminal assets stolen in Nigeria and seized in Britain can be returned to the West African country, but such breakthroughs are rare.
“Buhari’s governing style is also a source of frustration. Critics say he is slow in his decision-making, which allows the EFCC to wallow in indecision.
“Buhari’s critics say his approach means that much-needed funds from corruption cases are not bringing in revenue for an ailing economy ravaged by low oil prices, and the oil blocks themselves are not being developed.”
The Malabu Oil deal allegedly led to the siphoning off of $1 billion (£750 million) from a $1.3 billion international investment in a lucrative oil block through “fees” to Etete’s company and assorted middlemen.
Jonathan Fisher QC called it “grand corruption”. High Court Judge Mr Justice Edis declared: “Given the large sums of money involved that are effectively paid to a former minister to a bank account in the Middle East, the whole exercise is backed by murky instructions.”
Anti-corruption campaigner Global Witness’s Barnaby Pace said: “The $1 billion that went missing was equivalent to 80% of Nigeria’s health budget but the money did not benefit the country’s citizens.
“The deal proves how critical it is that the public can find out who the real owners of companies are so that criminals cannot disguise their identities.” ENI and Shell deny wrongdoing.”