Nigeria: Malabu - Anti-Graft Group Threatens to Sue Adoke Over Alleged Defamation

HEDA claims that Mr Adoke's allegation that its chair, Mr Suraju, forged an email document tendered in a Milan court is defamatory.

An anti-corruption organisation, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), has given a former justice minister, Mohammed Adoke, two weeks to retract an allegation of forgery levelled against its chairman, Olanrewaju Suraju.

HEDA, in a statement signed by Mr Suraju, threatened to sue Mr Adoke in the United Kingdom should he fail to retract the forgery allegation.

The threat comes on the heel of an earlier similar threat by the UK anti-corruption group, Corner House, which is HEDA's partner in respect of the prosecution of Malabu scandal. The UK group threatened legal action in response to Mr Adoke's petition to the police accusing Mr Suraju of forgery.

HEDA in the statement, on Sunday, said Mr Adoke wrongly accused HEDA of forging evidence (in the form of an email, a screenshot of which was reproduced in the article) that had been admitted as evidence by the Milan Court in Italy.

It said the evidence was admitted in the trial of Shell, Eni and other defendants on charges of international corruption relating to the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245 transaction of 2011.

It said said the former minister in collaboration with some lawyers had resorted to blackmail in order to subvert the lingering investigations of graft associated with OPL 245.

HEDA accused Adoke and his legal team of exploiting the "fragile state and weak political environment" to launder a string of campaigns to redeem the image of key actors in the series of financial misdeeds linked to the OPL 245 deal.

It added that they issued a press statement titled, 'Lawyers: E-mail evidence tendered against Adoke in Italy was forged," wherein they sought to cast HEDA in bad light.

'Forgery untrue'

The statement read in part, "This is a case of a legal team deliberately distorting facts already accepted globally without blemish.

"It is unprofessional to describe as forged a document tendered and accepted as a legal document by international law courts just to create a safe passage for suspects."

Mr Suraju said the role of HEDA Resource Centre as one of the parties responsible for the petition that led to the OPL 245-related investigations and prosecution in Nigeria is widely known in Nigeria and across the world.

He added that the accusation that it forged the email in question or any other evidence submitted to the courts in Milan or elsewhere is entirely untrue and highly defamatory.

'How email surfaced'

HEDA explained that the email came to light after it was disclosed by JP Morgan Chase to Nigeria as a result of proceedings in the High Court in London.

It added that the Nigerian government is currently suing the bank for damages relating to its handling of funds arising from Shell and Eni's acquisition in 2011 of the OPL 245 oil field in Nigeria.

"In its claim, Nigeria stated that an email had been sent by Adoke on 21 June 2011 to Bayo Osolake, employee at JP Morgan Chase, from the email address "agroupproperties@yahoo.com" and that copies of the Resolution Agreements for the OPL 245 deal were attached to the email. HEDA noted that the Nigerian authorities further stated in court documents that the email address was associated with "the A Group of Nigerian companies controlled by Mr Abubakar Aliyu", a Group Construction, which is part of the network, subsequently received some of the OPL 245 funds which were transferred by JP Morgan to a company named Malabu Oil & Gas.

"Having become aware of the email, which was believed to be relevant to the prosecution in Milan of Royal Dutch Shell, Eni Spa and others, our partners, acting in the public interest, informed the Milan Prosecutor of the FRN's statements to the High Court in London. The Milan Prosecutor issued a European Investigation Order (Ref:54772/13) to the UK, seeking the email from JP Morgan. The UK authorities complied with the request and obtained the email, which was subsequently transmitted by the UK authorities to the Milan Prosecutor," HEDA noted.

According to HEDA, the Milan Tribunal subsequently accepted the email as evidence in the trial and the prosecutor presented it to the court on February 3, 2021.

HEDA said the email was obtained by the Milan prosecutor through a government-to-government request from Italy to the United Kingdom and that the documentation is now part of the public record that the email was obtained from JP Morgan by the UK Serious Fraud Office and transmitted directly to the Milan Prosecutor.

Adoke's petition to police

Mr Adoke had sent a petition to the Inspector General of Police office demanding a probe of email evidence presented against him by prosecutors in Malabu trial in Milan, Italy.

In his petition dated February 5, Mr Adoke claimed that an email presented at the Italian court and purported to have originated from him, was "forged" and presented in court to "interfere with the course of justice.

The former minister told the police in the petition that those behind the alleged forgery were unknown to him, but urged the police authorities to expose them.

The former attorney-general also later complained to the police that some people, one of whom he suspected to be Mr Suraju, circulated a fake tape purporting it to be that of an interview he had with an Italian journalist admitting that the Malabu transaction was a scam.

He said he granted no such interview but that a tape was concocted and circulated purporting him to have done so.

Both Shell and Eni along with their managers that were the main defendants in the case, were accused of paying bribes to Nigerian officials in respect of the OPL 245 oil block.

But they were recently acquitted by the Milan court in March.

Police in April interrogated Mr Suraju in Abuja but later released him on bail.

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