Court evidence has emerged to show that global oil giants Shell and ENI were very much aware that they were paying over a billion dollars to Dan Etete in a shady deal over a Nigerian oil block.
Despite insisting that they had no previous knowledge that a huge chunk of the $1.1billion (N155 billion) they paid to the Nigerian government for oil block OPL-245 would be transferred to Malabu Oil, owned by convicted felon Dan Etete, proceedings from a recent UK High Court case shows that Shell and ENI were aware of the final destination of the money.
According to a report by online media Premium Times, testimony presented in a high court case brought by a Nigerian consultant, Energy Venture Partners, which claimed that it was owed money for helping to arrange the payment of the N155 billion to Malabu Oil, shows that, in 2009, an official of Shell had a jovial face-to-face meeting with Etete, while they had lavish "lunch and lots of iced champagne" a few months before the money was paid to the Nigerian government that subsequently transferred it into Malabu's account.
The report further informed that an email presented during the trial also mentioned that the Shell official who feted with Mr Etete would refer to someone in The Hague known as "Peter" over the terms of the deal, adding curiously that Shell's CEO is named Peter Voser.
"Voser has not responded to questions sent by our partner, Global Witness, a UK-based international organisation committed to transparency and accountability in the global extractive industry, on whether he is the "Peter" mentioned in the email," Premium Times stated.
The email, according to the report, further shows that Mr. Etete had asked Shell to provide some initial figures of how much it was willing to pay for the oil block and the official responded that "Peter has to talk to The Hague and we will come back with a figure."
Shell did not directly answer questions by Global Witness to explain whether the "Peter" cited in the email was its CEO Peter Voser, the report said.
"We can confirm that neither (Shell's Nigerian subsidiary) SNEPCo nor any other Shell company is party to those proceedings and, as a consequence, we cannot comment on any statements or allegations made in the course of those proceedings," said Shell to the allegations made during the court proceedings, Premium Times reported.
It added that Global Witness explained that a Shell 2010 annual report shows no other "Peter" in the company's top management staff, adding that it was an indication that Shell's most senior executive is aware that the company negotiated with an ex-convict.
Similarly, the report informed that documents presented during the high court case also show that ENI officials including its chief operating officer, Claudio Descalzi, had several meetings with Etete in Lagos as well as at the luxury Acanto Restaurant in the Principe di Savoia Hotel, Milan, in February 2010.
It added that the document alleges that other meetings between Etete and ENI officials were held in April and November 2010.
When contacted by Global Witness, ENI avoided questions about its meetings with Mr. Etete. It however said: "the transaction concerning the acquisition of the 245 Block has been conducted by Eni and Shell in full compliance with the laws," Premium Times reported.
"We believe that the government of a sovereign country should not be mistrusted and that dealing with the government directly and without the use of intermediaries ensures full transparency in that transaction," Eni added.
But describing the claims as insufficient, Global Witness director Simon Taylor said: "Shell and Eni's claim that they did not do a deal with Malabu fails to address the question of their knowledge of where the payment was ultimately going. They also fail to explain their apparent extensive direct dealings with Etete.
"Both companies appeared to enjoy rather lavish meals with Etete, and ended up taking part in an arrangement that, in the absence of a better explanation, looks like an attempt to conceal their US$1.1 billion deal with Abacha's money laundering convicted oil minister."
The report noted that details from the court proceedings also show that Shell ceased direct negotiation with Etete when it found out that Mohammed Abacha, the son of Sani Abacha, Nigeria's late military dictator, was claiming to own a percentage of Malabu Oil.
However, it commenced negotiations with the Nigerian government and, in April 2011, paid $1.1 billion to the government for onward transfer to Malabu's account in an intricate fraudulent scheme, the report added.