Premium Times (Abuja)

17 August 2013

Nigeria: Malabu U.S.$1.1 Billion Fraud - Obasanjo Demanded His Share, Etete Tells British Court

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was involved in an underground attempt to cut a slice of oil bloc OPL 245 in the dubious Malabu oil deal, the man at the centre of the scam, Dan Etete, told a British High Court.

According to details of the approved judgment by Lady Justice Gloster of the Commercial division of the Royal Court of Justice, London, in a breach of contract case between Malabu Oil and middleman Emeka Obi, owner of Energy Ventures Partners Limited (EVP), Mr. Etete, a convicted felon and sole signatory to Malabu accounts, said his licence to the oil block was revoked in 2001 because conflicts erupted after Mr. Obasanjo made personal demands on the controversial oil bloc.

Mr. Etete, as Petroleum Minister in 1998, had fraudulently awarded OPL 245 to a company he had interest in, using a false identity Kwekwu Amafegha. The oil bloc has since gone through different ownerships, legal tussles and deals before it was controversially sold for $1.1 (over N170 billion) to Shell and ENi in controversial circumstances last year, with the Nigerian government playing a shady role in the deal.

Mr. Etete suggested that Pecos Limited, which was listed as a previous shareholder in Malabu's records with the Corporate Affairs Commission, was a company connected to Mr. Obasanjo's regime.

Sources knowledgeable about the Malabu deal told PREMIUM TIMES that Pecos, owned by businessman Oyewole Fasawe, was used to secure ownership of a significant percentage of the oil bloc in 2001 at a time Mr. Obasanjo and his then vice president, Atiku Abubakar, were very close; with Mr. Fasawe doing deals on behalf of both leaders.

Pecos was controversially removed as a shareholder in 2010 after licence to the oil block was re-awarded to Malabu and replaced with Munamuma Seidougha and Amaran Joseph, both of whom had 10 million shares each. Both men have close links to Mr. Etete and anti-corruption investigators believe they were fronts used by Mr. Etete to outmaneuver his business partners.

A career of bribery and fraud

The court document also shows that Mr. Etete, who was convicted for money laundering in France, collected bribe in excess of N375 million ($2.5 million) between 1996 and 1998 when he was the country's petroleum minister.

The document also shows that the government was surcharged N2.7 billion ($18 million) in signature bonus accrued from the award of licence for OPL 245. Out of the $20 million obligatory bonus that should have been paid to the government Malabu only paid a paltry N300 million ($2.04 million) in 1999.

Flawed personality

The judge while delivering judgement also spent time profiling the former minister.

According to Lady Gloster, during the course of the trial, Mr. Etete came across as one with inherently flawed personality. The judge described his evidence as "self-serving, self-contradictory, unrealistic, argumentative or, at times, almost impossible to follow."

The judge said Mr. Etete "frequently changed his story, often within a few minutes of having given a directly opposing answer. The manner in which he gave his evidence was argumentative and extravagant."

"He was prone to make wild allegations of fraud and forgery, or point the finger of blame at others, including his own trusted financial advisers and lawyers, without any appreciation of the serious implications of his accusations. His recollection was very poor and, at times, the only conclusion which I could reach was that he was being deliberately dishonest.

"My ultimate conclusion was that I could not rely upon him as a witness of truth. I also conclude that, in a commercial context, he would have presented an almost insuperable challenge as a counter-party to negotiations," the judge said.

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