The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday told a Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice John Tsoho, that the oil block prospecting licence known as OPL 245 was illegally and fraudulently acquired by Malabu Oil & Gas Limited.
The anti-graft agency also alleged that former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Mohammed Adoke, facilitated the payment of $1.2bn bribe to Chief Dan Etete, former Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The disclosures from the EFCC were contained in its counter-affidavit in opposition to the applications brought by Nigerian Agip Exploration Limited and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd, praying the court to vacate its order of forfeiture made against them in respect of OPL 245 prospecting licence.
In a counter-affidavit moved by counsel to the EFCC, Ojogbane Johnson, the commission urged the court to refuse the applications, as granting it would be prejudicial to the respondent (EFCC).
In its counter-affidavit, dated February 24, 2017, the EFCC gave a historic background of how the transaction occurred.
It further disclosed how the applicants conspired with Adoke to acquire the already illegally acquired assets OPL 245, knowing that Malabu’s interest in OPL 245 was unlawful. In the counter-affidavit, with 36 paragraphs, the EFCC claimed that Shell was fully aware that the allocation of the oil well and procedures adopted by the owners of Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd were fraught with fraud but went ahead to consummate the transaction.
The commission stated that, sometime in April 1998, Malabu was incorporated in Nigeria, with shareholders Mohammed Sani, fronting for the then Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, Kwejwu Amafegha, representing Dan Etete, then Minister of Petroleum Resources, and Hassan Hindu, on behalf of Hassan Adamu.
In April 1998, the EFCC said, the company was incorporated, with the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources offering it the deep water oil block prospecting licence, known as OPL 245, in line with the Federal Government’s indigenous policy in the upstream sector.
The counter-affidavit deposed to by Ibrahim Ahmed averred that, against all known government regulations, the oil prospecting licence, was awarded to Malabu Oil & Gas, even before a formal application was submitted by the company.
The EFCC said, in June 1998, Abacha died and, between 1999 and 2000, the corporate status and shareholding structure were altered severally, through forged board resolutions, which eventually divested Mohammed Sani of his shares, while new shareholders and directors were appointed fraudulently.
Also, at the time the company was incorporated, Abacha and Etete were Head of State and Minister of Petroleum Resources respectively, while Hassan Adamu was the Nigerian ambassador to the United States of America, between 1996 and 1999.
The EFCC said at the time of the company’s incorporation, Abacha, Etete and Adamu were barred by extant laws from engaging in any form of business by virtue of their offices. Therefore, they used their positions to confer unfair advantage on themselves and cronies, in allocating OPL 245 to selves without due process.
The affidavit added that the company contracted Shell Petroleum and SNEPCO, in a joint venture scheme, for the purpose of prospecting and operating the said licence given by the Federal Government.
Furthermore, the EFCC told the court that, following instructions from Adoke, money was transferred from escrow accounts operated by Etete and Malabu in First Bank and Keystone Bank.
Investigations by the EFCC also showed that the Federal Government was defrauded by SPDC and Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd by underpaying the sum of $210 million as signature bonus on OPL 245.
The EFCC’s investigation further revealed that the applicants allegedly conspired with Adoke to acquire the already illegally acquired assets OPL 245, knowing that Malabu’s interest in OPL 245 was unlawful.
Earlier, counsel to the applicants, Prof. Konyinsola Ajayi (SAN) and Babatunde Fagbohundu (SAN), had urged the court to vacate its forfeiture order against their clients on the grounds that it was obtained in breach of the constitutional rights of fair hearing.
Ajayi, who stood in for Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited, submitted that the order, having been obtained in ex parte proceedings, should be vacated, as his clients were denied fair hearing.
Meanwhile, the court has fixed March 13, 2017, for ruling.