The House of Representatives plans to summon former President Goodluck Jonathan to explain his role in the controversial award of OPL 245 oil block licence, PREMIUM TIMES learnt Monday.
Razak Atunwa, Chairman of the House Committee on Justice who leads an ad-hoc panel investigating the $1.3 billion Malabu oil deal, said efforts have commenced towards summoning the former president to testify.
The money was paid by oil giants, Shell and ENI, for the oil block, one of the richest in Africa. About $1.1 billion of the money was paid directly into a Nigerian government account with JP Morgan while about $200 million had been paid by Shell as signature bonus.
Most of the $1.1 billion ended up in private accounts with about $801million directly going into the account of Dan Etete, a former petroleum minister who was convicted for money laundering in France. A large part of that sum is believed to have gone to Mr. Jonathan and officials that served under him including Mohammed Adoke, the then attorney general.
"I can confirm that the former president is now on our radar following new details that were uncovered in latest news reports about the Malabu scandal," Mr. Atunwa, an APC lawmaker from Kwara State, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Monday afternoon.
His comments came a day after PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr. Jonathan might have received up to $200 million in bribes to approve the controversial deal.
The report was based on Italian court documents obtained by BuzzFeed and Italian business newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore.
In the documents, Italian prosecutors quoted Ednan Agaev, a Russian middleman who helped negotiate the transfer of the oil block to Shell and Eni, as saying that Dan Etete, the former Petroleum Minister at the heart of the oil scandal, said he intended to dole out as much as $400 million in bribes if the deal went through.
If Mr. Etete actually paid out such an amount in bribes to Nigerian officials, "Agaev stated that he would think President Goodluck Jonathan got at least $200 million of this money," BuzzFeed quoted an excerpt of FBI submissions to Italian authorities as saying.
The revelations were made when the FBI interviewed Mr. Agaev, whom prosecutors also said met with Mr. Jonathan on more than one occasion in Nigeria during the OPL 245 negotiations.
Mr. Agaev, who was Mr. Etete's representative in the negotiation, said the convicted former petroleum minister told him of the $400 million bribe to Nigerian politicians when he approached him for his payment.
The Russian also repeated the claim in a follow-up interview with Italian prosecutors, led by Fabio De Pasquale in Milan.
"I said that if it's true, that he paid, he had to pay 400 million, I assume that at least 200 went to Goodluck (Jonathan)."
"I heard from Chief (Etete), he claims that he had to pay 400 million, so, if this is true, if he paid 400 million, then most probably the President, as the biggest boss, took at least the half of it," BuzzFeed wrote, quoting documents prepared by Italian prosecutors.
Last year, Mr. Atunwa's committee commenced a new round of inquiry into the controversies surrounding the OPL 245 since its lease was first awarded in 1998.
The lawmaker said his committee found the latest allegations against Mr. Jonathan too compelling to ignore.
"We cannot ignore such weighty allegations knowing fully well that Nigeria has lost billions of dollars as a result of the numerous complications around the OPL 245 oil field," Mr. Atunwa said.
"We've summoned several former and present top government functionaries, including the Attorney-General Abubakar Malami, to provide information that could help in our investigation and they honoured us."
He said the committee would inform Nigerians after dispatching its invitation letter to the former president.
"We're still working out the details," he said. "Nigerians will know the time and modalities of our summon to the president, including letter of invitation, very soon."
Mr. Jonathan's spokesperson, Ikechukwu Eze, could not be reached for comments about the lawmakers' moves on Monday afternoon. But he exonerated the former president in a January 10 statement about the Malabu oil deal.
"We wish to make it clear that former President Jonathan was not accused, indicted or charged for corruptly collecting any monies as kickbacks or bribes from ENI by the Italian authorities or any other law enforcement body the world over," the statement said.
While Mr. Jonathan and officials that served under him continue to deny any wrongdoing, Shell, the global oil firm that desperately wanted control of the OPL 245, on Monday admitted it knew the $1.1 billion it paid alongside ENI for the block would be used as kickback for an ex-convict and former petroleum minister, Dan Etete.