By Oladeinde Olawoyin
The former minister, 75, described the decision as “significant and wide ranging”.
A former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, has hailed the verdict of an Italian court that acquitted Shell, Eni and their managers in the Malabu scandal.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the oil giants and their managers were all acquitted by the court last Wednesday.
The verdict ended a trial that has seen officials of the oil giants battle to prove their innocence.
Prosecutors had charged that executives involved in the Malabu deal knew that much of the $1.1 billion they deposited into an escrow account controlled by the Nigerian government would be disbursed as bribes.
The oil companies and its officials have consistently denied any wrongdoing. However, in 2018, two middlemen named in the Malabu deals were found guilty of corruption in a separate trial
Several former executives of the companies were also cleared of wrongdoing, including Malcolm Brinded and Paolo Scaroni.
Environmental and social justice groups on Wednesday condemned the verdict, describing Italy’s anti-corruption laws as “unfit for purpose”.
But an unsigned statement issued on Monday said Mr Etete “notes with satisfaction that the Courts in Milan have rightly acquitted him of corruption and corrupt behaviour following a brutal and diligent 36 months trial.”
PREMIUM TIMES reached out to Anthony George-Ikoli, one of Mr Etete’s lawyers, who confirmed that the former oil minister authorised the release of the statement.
The statement said the Milan judgement “independently follows the path of the UK’s trial and decision (double jeopardy) on the malicious prosecution of the Nigerian Government
The former oil minister described the decision as “significant and wide ranging”, adding that it also affirms that the “settlement agreements on transfer from Malabu to Shell and ENI were valid.”
The minister also said that the court has confirmed that no bribes were paid to anyone and that there is no case to answer on the issue.
“These matters have occupied the Milan Courts for over 3 years, with almost 200 witnesses. The FGN and Prosecutor’s position has been found to be entirely baseless—-No Case to even answer said the Court,” he said.
“Milan was actively chosen by FGN to determine the issue of alleged corruption on OPL 245. They lost and must rightly live with that decision.
“The High Court in London ruled that FGN made the conscious choice to determine all alleged corruption on OPL 245 in Milan, both civilly and criminally. Both have now rightly lost in the jurisdiction they themselves chose
“The acquittal in Milan is therefore determinative in all jurisdictions, including Nigeria. Any and every Order made against Chief Dan Etete in any Nigerian Court or directly or indirectly in any other court on alleged corruption on OPL 245 are hereinafter entirely invalid and will be struck out.”
Mr Etete said he and Malabu have jointly and separately suffered “massive and unquantifiable losses” as a result of what he described as “malicious and politically motivated wrongful allegation of corruption.”
“The Chief was proven to have been wrongly labelled, a pariah with whom no large corporation would or could do business. Malabu Oil & Gas was similarly decimated,” the statement said.
“Those losses exceed 10 billion US dollars which are entirely and properly recoverable against FGN. The legal tests of remoteness and measure of damages are conclusively and legally satisfied.
“In essence, the valid and constantly unrevoked Settlement Agreements with Shell, ENI, FGN and Malabu relieved FGN of a multi-billion dollar claim by Shell in the Settlements process Arbitration begun in Washington by Eni on OPL 245.
“Importantly, that Arbitration stimulated a settlement, with duress, whereby Malabu was forced to accept 1.2 US billion dollars for a concession with a proper market value of at least 8-9 billion US dollars.
“Malabu was therefore deprived of approximately 8-9 billion US dollars in value on sale at the time, but over 15 billion US dollars if allowed to develop the Oil block as contractually agreed and upon which Malabu paid a signature bonus of 210 million US dollars to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Mr Etete said agreements are meant to be honoured and serious allegations of fraud need to be particularized and proven. The Nigerian government did neither, he said, adding that the government now faces a valid, irrefutable claim for omission and commission on OPL 245 which should never have happened.
“Chief Dan Etete expresses his sincere and unalloyed commitment to Bayelsa State and the Niger Delta; that FGN will be led to account for this malicious prosecution and waste of national resource, so the People of Nigeria should not face such perverse caprice by a malicious and fabricated claim for political purposes,” the statement said.
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by Mr Etete.
From the former minister’s accounts, prosecutors say about half the money ($520 million) went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, a middleman popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil. Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by Mr Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
The oil resources of the OPL 245 license have remained undeveloped since the controversies began. Eni initiated international arbitration proceedings against Nigeria in September, alleging the government has breached its obligations by refusing to let the firm develop the license, which will expire in May.
Last year, PREMIUM TIMES reported how Nigeria tracked down and grounded the luxury private jet purchased by Mr Etete, allegedly with some of the proceeds of the billion Malabu OPL245 oil deal.
Asset recovery lawyers acting for the Nigerian government swooped after the Bombardier 6000 jet, tail number M-MYNA, touched down at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport in Canada on 29th of May.
Now aged 75, Mr Etete is thought to divide his time between Dubai and France.
Having failed to secure his return to stand trial, Nigeria issued an arrest warrant for him earlier last year as authorities were said to be seeking his extradition.
Like former President Goodluck Jonathan and other officials alleged to have been involved in the deal, Mr Etete has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the allegations as “political propaganda”.