The controversial sale of Nigeria’s oil block OPL-245 took a new twist yesterday as the United Kingdom high court ruled in favour of the middleman who had instituted a case against Malabu Oil and Gas Company, claiming to have been side-lined for his role in brokering the deal which was executed under corrupt circumstances.
Much to the surprise and disbelief of the global anti-corruption advocacy community yesterday, the judge, Justice Gloster, ruled that Malabu Oil and Gas should pay the middleman, named Emeka Obi of Energy Venture Partners, at least $110.5 million for his work on the fraudulent deal.
The deal for the sale of the block, which has attracted widespread attention and criticism due to the corrupt circumstances under which it was brokered, involved the ex-Nigerian minister of petroleum, Dan Etete, who is an ex-convict, the middleman, Emeka Obi, the Nigerian government and subsidiaries of two of the world’s largest oil companies, Shell and Eni, who paid US$1.1 billion to purchase the block in 2011.
Obi had brought the case against Dan Etete’s company, Malabu Oil and Gas, before the UK court, claiming he was owed over US$200 million for his part in brokering the lucrative deal on Malabu’s behalf, and had the case ruled in his favour yesterday.
The judge, however, concluded that Etete, who awarded the block to Malabu when he was minister during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha in 1998, was in fact a hidden real, or “beneficial” owner, of Malabu “at all material times“, thus confirming the point that Etete awarded the block to himself.
But faulting the ruling in a statement issued yesterday, transparency group Global Witness noted that the court only considered where to send the money without regards to the legality of the case and the many unanswered questions surrounding the sale of the block.
Global Witness director Simon Taylor, in his reaction, stated that “from Global Witness’s point of view, the decision before the court effectively came down to whether or not to give cash to a crook who had stolen the block worth over a billion dollars from the Nigerian people, or to the middleman who claims he brokered the deal to sell it on”.
Simon added that “given that there are serious unanswered questions about the legality of OPL-245 deal, and the way it was put together, it is surely a scandal that the court’s only consideration was where to send the money. The first question that should have been considered and fully investigated is to the legitimacy of the deal in the first place.
“Global Witness believes the money being considered by the high court today should remain frozen, and that the UK authorities should investigate this case,” he added. LEADERSHIP had exclusively reported that transparency group Publish What You Pay (PWYP) and Zero Coalition for Corruption (ZCC) had written to the Netherlands, Italian and British government on the need to support a total investigation into the sale of the block by their companies Shell and Eni which are listed on the UK Stock Exchange.
LEADERSHIP has also exclusively reported that the Malabu oil deal scam is presently being investigated by the UK Proceeds of Crime Unit.
According to the national coordinator of PWYP Nigeria who is also a member of the board of the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Faith Nwadishi, who frowned at the ruling, said the problem of beneficial ownership/identity under which identities of companies are hidden, thus allowing individuals to engage in abuse of office and/or violate national laws, must be tackled.
She stated that “we have urgent concerns that, while the UK government champions essential transparency initiative, companies involved in questionable and obscure deal-making are not being held to account for their role in the loss of hundreds of millions of pounds of revenue, money that should be used for development.”
Information from Leadership was used in this report.