$1.1bn Malabu oil scandal: Nigeria returns oil block to Shell, Eni

A Federal High has reversed its previous ruling which retrieved the control of one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks, OPL 245, from Shell and ENI.

Delivering the ruling on the various applications regarding the matter, Justice John Tsoho said the ownership of the company should return to Shell and ENI.

The oil firms, through their Nigerian subsidiaries, had challenged the propriety of the Nigerian government withdrawing the oil block from them, pending the determination of a criminal matter.

The order of forfeiture was sought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which said it was investigating the corruption surrounding the block. The temporary order was granted by the court.

Apart from Shell and ENI, who want the block back, Malabu, the firm to which the block was originally assigned by the Nigerian government in 1998 under controversial circumstances, also sought to retake possession of the block.

The court had on January 26, issued an order, based on a motion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, retrieving the ownership of the oil block from the multinational companies.

Following that order, Shell and ENI approached the court with an application, challenging the ruling.

They contended that the rights of parties to fair hearing was not followed before the ruling was reached. They prayed the court to reverse the order, and allow the parties address the issue, legally.

Recall that one of former president Goodluck Jonathan’s directive after assuming the presidency of Nigeria was that the oil block be given to Malabu.

The agreements that were sealed led to Shell and ENI paying the $1.1 billion into a Nigerian government account in JP Morgan Chase in London. The money was to then be transferred to Malabu accounts controlled by Mr. Etete.

Although Shell and ENI have repeatedly claimed they did not know the money was going to end up with Mr. Etete, National Daily gathered that investigations in Nigeria and Italy as well as leaked documents revealed that claim to be false. Mr. Adoke himself would later admit that he, on behalf of the federal government, only acted as a mediator for two willing parties – Malabu and the oil majors.

On August 16, 2011, a day before Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was to assume office, Mr. Adoke and the then Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama, authorised the transfer of the money to Malabu accounts in Nigeria controlled by Mr. Adoke.

However, all the $1.1 billion could not be transferred. Emeka Obi, a man who claimed he helped broker the deal between Malabu and the oil majors filed a suit in the UK that ensured $215 million was frozen of the money. The remaining $801 million was subsequently transferred to Mr. Etete: $400 million was transferred to a Bank PHB account while $401 million was transferred to a First Bank account.

It is based on its investigations of the corruption surrounding the transfer of the block that the EFCC asked the court that it be temporarily forfeited to the Nigerian government. The request, granted by the court, is what Shell and Eni, and now Malabu, are contesting.