Premium Times (Abuja)

Nigeria: House of Reps Orders Cancellation of Fraudulent U.S.$1.1 Billion Malabu Oil Deal

The Nigerian House of Representatives on Tuesday ordered the cancellation of the fraudulent sale of a lucrative oil bloc OPL 245 to oil firms, Shell and Agip, in a shady deal facilitated with the payment of $1.1 billion(about N165 billion) to a convicted former petroleum minister, Dan Etete.

After months of bickering over the outcome of its own investigations into the transaction, the House approved all nine recommendations ordering the cancellation of the deal, the drafting of a new agreement, and the prosecution of officials found wanting.

If implemented by the federal government, the decision would mean Shell and Agip will lose the N165 billion paid to controversial company, Malabu Oil and Gas, for the oil bloc.

Lawmakers had vowed during investigations conducted in 2012 to review the deal to reflect a long-standing indigenous policy. The transaction rates as one of the most fraudulent in Nigeria's history.

The OPL 245 was allocated in 1998 to Malabu, a company owned by Mohammed Abacha, the son of former dictator, Sani Abacha; and Dan Etete, the petroleum minister at the time.

The Olusegun Obasanjo administration reviewed the deal, and transferred ownership of the bloc to Shell, sparking a prolonged legal battle.

The conflict between Malabu and Shell ended in 2011 after Malabu was paid $1.1 billion by Shell, facilitated by federal government officials.

The funds, paid into a government account, were immediately transferred into accounts controlled by Malabu's sole operator, Mr. Etete, who was convicted of money laundering by French authorities in 2007.

The transfers were authorized by the Attorney General of the federation, Mohammed Adoke, and a former minister of state for finance, Yerima Ngama. Mr. Adoke claimed the government acted merely as a facilitator concerned with resolving a long-standing conflict.

Later, the funds were funneled into multiple phony accounts, many linked to a man believed to be a front for senior government officials.

It later became clear the entire N165 billion was paid by Eni (Agip) which had suddenly become an interested party in the conflict, offering to pay the huge sum to enable it to share the booty that is OPL245.

Shell claimed it did not contribute to the payment since it had already spent $542 million in operating the field.

A two-day House of Representatives hearing into the deal ended in December 2012, with the lawmakers vowing to revoke the deal, citing its violation of an existing Indigenous Policy.

The House adhoc panel, headed by majority leader, Leo Ogor, said it was more concerned about upholding the government's policy that reserved the disputed bloc to local firms, than the intricacies of the N155 billion settlement.

Under the government's indigenous policy, 60 per cent of the bloc which reportedly holds over 9 billion barrels of oil, was to be controlled by a local firm; with the remaining equity going to a foreign technical partner.

"The federal government's interest in the bloc is non-negotiable," Mr. Ogor said during the probe. "No matter the amount you paid, we will sit down and rewrite the resolution and make sure it stays the way it should have been."

The lawmakers were worried over why the federal government, after re-awarding the bloc to Malabu as an indigenous firm, sold 100 percent of the bloc to Shell and Eni for the N165 billion.

Attorney General, Mr. Adoke, who attended the sitting in 2012, failed to provide answers to that question.

Repeated rescheduling

In its final report, the Leo Ogor-committee said the agreement giving Shell and Agip 50 percent apiece, was "highly flawed".

"The 'Resolution Agreement' ceded away our national interest and further committed Nigeria to some unacceptable indemnities and liabilities while acting as an obligor," the report said.

The group did not specifically ask that the funds be refunded. It only recommended that all individuals and financial institutions found culpable of receiving or transferring money unlawfully "with respect to or arising" out of the agreement, should be prosecuted and the money recovered.

Indicative of the high profile interest around the case, the report of the House investigation became another subject of intrigues with factions emerging among lawmakers with parallel recommendations.

Some lawmakers raised objections at past sittings when the report was to be considered, forcing scheduled debates to be suspended.

Some members claimed the ad hoc committee exceeded its mandate, while others claimed they had not been given copies of the report.

On Tuesday, a member, Simon Arabo (PDP, Kaduna) dismissed the report as an "embarrassment" to the house, and accused the committee of arrogating the power of a court to itself.

"This report is an embarrassment to this House. It's unconstitutional for us to have such a report. We're not part of the judiciary, so we can't play their role," he said.

Another member, Kamil Akinlabi (PDP, Oyo) suggested that the word "cancel" be replaced with "review" in the report's first recommendation.

Majority of the lawmakers however voted in favour of the report's recommendations.

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