UK police probing Shell, ENI Nigerian oil block deal
Proceeds of crime unit investigating money-laundering allegation
Documents relating to Obi’s London case show that both Shell and ENI met several times with Etete to negotiate the deal. An email from a Shell employee to another middleman recounts how he met Etete for face-to-face negotiations over “lots of iced champagne”.
Obi said in court he approached ENI on Malabu’s behalf on December 24th, 2009, and introduced Etete to an ENI representative to discuss the deal.
Global Witness campaigner Tom Mayne said: “It’s obvious from the meetings Shell and ENI both had with Dan Etete that they knew he was the person to speak to and then agreed that the deal be structured in such a way that it went through the government.”
Babatunde Oluajo, national secretary of Zero Corruption Coalition, told Reuters his Nigerian campaign group had asked the UK government to look into the matter.
“In regard to our . . . commitment to the fight against corruption in Nigeria ... we wish to . . . formally request for a full investigation into the activities of ... companies and individuals in the procurement of the OPL 245 in Nigeria,” reads a letter the group sent to the UK High Commissioner on July 5th.
Nigerian lawmakers also began investigating the deal last week to ascertain if Attorney General Mohammed Aboke, who helped finalise the deal with Eni and Shell, had acted properly, as his involvement only came to light in the London court case.
Aboke said he was acting in the interests of all parties to facilitate a deal and end the long-running ownership dispute over the oil block. He also said in a press report last week that resolving the dispute would help the government attract investment into the oil and gas sector.
The investigations highlight the regulatory risks faced by oil companies doing business in African countries with a history of weak governance and endemic corruption.
In the five years Abacha was in power, he liberally dished out oil blocks to political allies and is suspected of having enriched himself to the tune of about $4 billion before he died.
Malabu had been registered on April 24th, 1998, five days before Etete awarded it block OPL 245. Three months later, Abacha died.
Though Malabu’s original shareholders had been Abacha’s son and allies - and Etete himself, according to the British judge in Obi’s court case – the company secretary Rasky Gbinigie told the court he had lost all the documents showing who owned it now.
The ownership of OPL 245 had also been unclear ever since the government annulled the initial award to Malabu in 2001, and then awarded it first to Shell and then back to Malabu after a series of court cases.
Shell was still pursuing action to recover the block when it finally struck the deal to buy it with ENI in 2011.