Senior Royal Dutch Shell executives have been charged in Italy for their role in an alleged vast “bribery scheme” that deprived Nigeria of over a billion dollars from the sale of a prolific oil block – Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL) 245 – by Malabu Oil and Gas Limited to Shell and Italian oil giant, Eni, in 2011, the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office confirmed last Friday to Global Witness, a non-governmental organisation fighting corruption.
Officials facing trial include Malcolm Brinded, the second most powerful person in the company when the deal was struck. Others charged are Peter Robinson, former vice-president for Shell’s sub-Saharan Africa operations and Guy Colegate and John Copleston, former Shell employees and ex-MI6 agents as well as the company itself, also facing bribery charges alongside the individuals.
News of the charges broke Monday just as human rights lawyer and activists, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), dragged President Muhammadu Buhari before the Federal High Court in Abuja, asking the court to restrain him from continuing to hold the office of Minister of Petroleum Resources while in office as President of Nigeria.
Commenting on the charges against the Shell officials, Olanrewaju Suraju of Human and Environmental Development Agenda of Nigeria, said: “These charges are a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual for oil companies in Nigeria. It’s now time for the Dutch and British authorities to follow Italy’s lead and hold their biggest company to account.”
In 2011, Shell and Eni paid $1.1 billion for OPL 245, an oil block located in deep waters offshore Nigeria, allegedly knowing that the money would go to Malabu Oil and Gas owned by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dan Etete, who had been convicted for money laundering in France.
Etete was accused of awarding himself the block while in office under former military head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha.
The historic decision follows a dramatic U-turn in which it admitted that it knew its billion dollar payment would go to Etete, in exchange for OPL 245.
“This could be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, and a watershed moment for the oil industry. The top brass of the UK’s largest company is in the dock after it finally admitted dealing with a convicted money launderer.
“There can be no clearer sign that wholesale change is needed. Shell must first apologise to the Nigerian people, then take clear steps to reassure investors and the broader public that this won’t happen again,” said Barnaby Pace of Global Witness.
In April, Global Witness and Finance Uncovered revealed that Shell executives knew that the $1.1 billion they paid for OPL 245 would go to Etete and was likely to be used in a vast bribery scheme.
For years, Shell had claimed that it only paid the Nigerian Government. But after the Global Witness investigations, Shell shifted its position and acknowledged it had dealt with Etete through his front company, Malabu.
In December, the Milan Public Prosecutor alleged that $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to former President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials.
Now, Italian authorities have brought bribery charges against Malcolm Brinded, then Head of Upstream, alongside three others.
According to the Shell Foundation, Brinded has stepped down from his role as Chairman of the Board of Trustees due to the legal action in Italy.
Brinded remains a trustee of the foundation as well as retained positions as Chair of Engineering UK and President of the Energy Institute.
In September 2017, BHP Billiton announced that Malcolm Brinded would not return to the BHP Billiton board due to judicial inquiries over the OPL 245 deal.
In 2002, Brinded was awarded the CBE for services to the U.K. oil and gas industry. These individual charges are in addition to existing charges brought against Shell, Eni, the Italian company’s CEO, former CEO and Chief Operations Officer, middlemen and several Nigerian officials.
“Shell’s current CEO, Ben van Beurden has described the emails we leaked as ‘pub talk’, but most pub chats don’t end up in criminal proceedings.
“Mr. van Beurden has had four years as CEO to address a scandal that now threatens to engulf his company but has done next to nothing. He should draw a line under the case by admitting the company’s guilt, removing Mr. Brinded from his position, and setting out his plan for overhauling the company’s anti-bribery efforts for the future,” said Pace.
“These charges are a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual for oil companies in Nigeria. It’s now time for the Dutch and British authorities to follow Italy’s lead and hold their biggest company to account,” added Suraju.
OPL 245 holds significant discovered hydrocarbon reserves and will increase Shell’s reserves by a third. Two oil and gas discoveries have been made on the block.
Etan and Zabazaba were discovered in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Eni plans to develop the Etan and Zabazaba fields in phases with subsea wells tied back to a leased floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel.
Agbakoba Heads to Court
Meanwhile, human rights lawyer and activists, Mr. Agbakoba (SAN), Monday dragged President Buhari before the Federal High Court in Abuja, asking the court to restrain him from continuing to hold the office of Minister of Petroleum Resources while still in office as President of Nigeria.
Agbakoba’s lawsuit was instituted two weeks ago after a memo written by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to the president came to light.
In the memo, which was leaked on social media, the minister had accused the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru, of keeping the NNPC board of directors which Kachikwu chairs in the dark in the award of contracts to the tune of $25 billion.
Among other issues, Kachikwu also alleged that the board was not carried along in the recent appointment of senior NNPC executives.
In response to the memo, Baru dismissed the allegations on the contract awards, saying due process was followed and the president granted the approvals to the contracts, but he was silent on the appointments without recourse to the board.
But in the suit filed pursuant to Order 3 Rule 1, 6 and 9 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules and Sections q(1) and (2), 138 and 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution, Agbakoba asked the court to determine whether, by virtue of Section 138 of the Constitution which disqualifies the president from holding any other executive office or paid employment, he can simultaneously serve as Minister of Petroleum?
He argued that on the basis of Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution disqualifying the president from taking any paid employment or holding an executive office of Minister of Petroleum Resources, he cannot hold office as Minister of Petroleum Resources.
In the case which has the Attorney General of Federation (AGF) as a defendant, the senior advocate also contended that there was no time Buhari’s appointment as Minister of Petroleum Resources was confirmed by the Senate of the National Assembly as stipulated under Section 147(2) of the Constitution.
The affidavit supporting his claim stated that the determination of the questions in the claim was of vital national importance, in view of the governance chaos at NNPC.
“By virtue of Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 Constitution), which disqualifies the President of Nigeria from holding any other executive office or paid employment, can the Nigerian President simultaneously serve as a Minister of Petroleum Resources, which is an executive office?
“By virtue of Section 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution, if the President is not disqualified, can the President hold the office of Minister of Petroleum Resources, without confirmation by the Senate of the National Assembly?” he asked.
At the risk of being accused of not having locus standi, Agbakoba stated that he is a taxpayer, voter and lawyer with over 40 years experience in legal practice.
He equally stated that he is involved in advocacy for democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism.
The human rights lawyer said he was the president of the Civil Liberties Organisations (CLO), Convener of United Action for Democracy and senior counsel for Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS) who was on many occasions detained under Decree 2 for his advocacy for democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law in the country.
He wants the court to determine whether, by virtue of Section 138 of the constitution, which disqualifies the president from holding any other executive office or paid employment, he can simultaneously serve as Minister of Petroleum?
He said he was greatly concerned about the recent management crisis in NNPC, particularly the disagreements between Kachikwu and Baru, over the administration of NNPC.
He stated that the governance crisis in NNPC could not have occurred if the president was not also the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The human rights lawyer stated that since NNPC provides up to 90 per cent of the revenue accruing to Nigeria, he was worried that the crisis in the company will greatly reduce Nigeria’s revenue generating capacity and will affect revenue distributable to federal, states and local governments in the country and this, according to him, will gravely affect development nationwide and drastically impact on him and other Nigerians.
This was the second suit filed by Agbakoba in relation to NNPC in recent weeks. He went to court a few weeks ago to ask for the dissolution of the corporation’s board on the grounds that there is no South-east representation on the board in compliance with the Constitution and Federal Character Commission Act.
Fire Incident in Minister’s Home
In another incident, a part of the residence of Kachikwu located within the highbrow Asokoro district of Abuja was on Sunday evening burnt by a fire that was ignited by an electrical surge through two air conditioners and a television set in his bedroom.
It was gathered that first responders and security personnel who were around at the time of the incident were able to put out the fire.
Sources close to the minister said no casualty or huge losses were recorded from the fire outbreak, but extensive damage was caused to the minister’s room due to the fire.
Kachikwu was in Lagos when the incident occurred, but a source said: “Yes, a part of the minister’s residence was burnt on Sunday. It was as a result of an electrical fault in a part of the building, but he was not at home when this happened, so no casualty whatsoever.
“Some mobile police officers and first responders were able to put out the fire. But the most important thing was that it was not serious because it only affected a part of the building.
“The presence of the police post close to the estate where he lives was also instrumental.”
When THISDAY tried to visit Kachikwu’s residence, the presence of armed mobile security officers along the road leading into the estate where the minister’s house is located made it quite difficult to assess the extent of the damage to the building.
However, upon hearing of the incident, the NNPC GMD was said to have visited the minister’s home Monday to commiserate with him.
Upon hearing that Kachikwu was still in Lagos, Baru flew to Nigeria’s commercial capital to see the minister at his Ikoyi residence.
But THISDAY gathered that when Baru arrived Kachikwu’s home in a long motorcade at 6.02 p.m., Kachikwu was not at home.
It was learnt that on reaching Kachikwu’s residence, the NNPC boss and his aides went inside the premises with a convoy of three vehicles, while seven other vehicles in the motorcade waited outside.
Investigation, however, revealed that the NNPC boss and his entourage met the minister’s absence and left at 6.07 p.m.
One of the minister’s domestic aides, who spoke off the record, told THISDAY that the minister had left his Lagos home earlier in the day to an unknown destination.