$180m Halliburton probe: EFCC boss, AGF visit US, participate in bilateral talks

*Justice

*Justice

…As Dutch investigators probe controversial Malabu oil deals

Oscarline Onwuemenyi

31 March 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – Seeking to boost recognition and acceptance for its stated anti-corruption war, the Federal Government has taken its message to the United States.

Presidency sources have disclosed that the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Ibrahim Magu are currently meeting with anti-graft officials in the United States, barely two weeks after a similar trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where about $200 billion looted funds are believed to have been stashed away by former public officers.

Sources at the EFCC told our correspondent that the newly-appointed financial crimes boss left for the United States last week to meet with various departments connected with the anti-graft war.

The AGF later joined the EFCC boss because of many pending legal issues on corruption matters involving some former public officers.

According to a source, “The AGF and the EFCC chairman are in the US to give a status report on the anti-corruption war by the government, areas requiring assistance and how to explore ways of legally ensuring that ex-public officers who have fled to the US return home to account for their tenure.”

Both men are set to participate in the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission meeting which began yesterday . The U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission was inaugurated on April 6, 2010, by then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Yayale Ahmed in Washington, DC.

It is a strategic dialogue designed to expand mutual cooperation across a broad range of shared interests. It’s also a collaborative forum to build partnerships for tangible and measurable progress on issues critical to the U.S. and Nigeria.

Issues of mutual interest to be discussed are captured in the commission’s four working groups which provide the structure for engagement, which includes Good governance, Transparency, and Integrity, as well as Energy and Investment to improve transparency, administration and performance of the power generation and hydrocarbon sectors.

Other areas include Niger Delta and Regional Security Cooperation, and Food Security and Agriculture.

However, sources have indicated that the Halliburton bribery scandal may be top on the agenda at the talks this year after the EFCC reopened an investigation into the $180 million scam in January this year.

EFCC alleges that about $22, 417, 000 and DRM 500,000 bribes were shared to top government officials during the administrations of ex-Heads of State Gen. Sani Abacha and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Other issues likely for discussion at the meeting would include issues in the war against graft, including how to repatriate looted funds, the fate of fleeing former public officers, and the $2billion Malabu Oil deal.

Meanwhile, Shell, yesterday confirmed that Dutch investigators visited its headquarters in the Hague over an investigation into the controversial Nigerian offshore oil field located in oil prospecting licence (OPL) 245 retrieved from Malabu Oil over allegations of fraud in the award of the oil block, and later sold to Shell and Eni.

A Shell spokesman in Nigeria, Precious Okolobo, confirmed that the firm’s headquarters was visited by investigators. He said, “We can confirm that representatives of the Dutch Financial Intelligence and Investigation Service (FIOD) and the Dutch Public Prosecutor recently visited Shell at its headquarters in The Hague.

“The visit was related to OPL 245, an offshore block in Nigeria that was the subject of a series of long-standing disputes with the Federal Government of Nigeria. Shell is cooperating with the authorities and is looking into the allegations, which it takes seriously.

“Shell attaches the greatest importance to business integrity. It’s one of our core values and is a central tenet of the business principles that govern the way we do business. All employees are expected to uphold these principles and failure to do so will result in consequences up to and including dismissal.”

Also, Italian prosecutors are reportedly investigating Royal Dutch Shell over allegations of international corruption in relation to a big Nigeria oil deal that also involved Italian oil giant, Eni.

Milan prosecutors opened a corruption probe into Eni in 2014 in a case relating to a $1.3 billion acquisition of Nigeria’s OPL-245 offshore oil block in 2011 by the Italian company and Shell.

They later placed under investigation Eni’s Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi and another top manager at the company. The probe has now been widened to Shell, the source said, confirming a report in an Italian daily, Corriere Della Sera.

“We can confirm we have received notice of proceedings from the Public Prosecutor in Italy,” a Shell spokesman said.

The controversial oil block said to hold about nine billion barrels of oil was alleged to have been fraudulently sold to Malabu Oil for a paltry sum by Dan Etete who was the Minister of Petroleum between March 1995 and 1998.

Malabu Oil is alleged to belong to Etete and the late military Head of State, General Sani Abacha. The oil block was awarded Malabu two weeks before Abacha died. Until today, it was said that lawyers representing Malabu in the forfeiture of $83 million oil deal in British Courts were representing Etete though he refuted the allegation and claimed to be a consultant to Malabu.

In 2001, former President Olusegun Obasanjo cancelled the Malabu licence on the basis that the allocation was inappropriate, and the ownership reverted to the Federal Government.

In 2011, the Federal Government under former President Goodluck Jonathan sold the oil block to Shell and Eni for $1.1billion and another $207million as the signature bonus. Reportedly, few days after about 90 per cent of the payment was made to Nigeria’s JP Morgan London account, the Federal Government transferred the payment to Malabu’s account and thereafter over $500million was wired to companies owned by a certain Aliyu Abubakar.

The Italian prosecutor at the British Court reportedly claimed they have a wire-tap that confirmed Abubakar was a front for former President Jonathan, code-named “Fortunato”.

The office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) headed by Mohammed Diri, had a committee, which included lawyers from his office that looked into the case. The committee called for the cancellation of the “settlement agreement” that ceded the oil block to Shell and Eni.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, will advise the Federal Government on the committee’s recommendations and should President Muhammadu Buhari approve the recommendations, Shell and Eni will lose the oil block.

A presidency source said: “Both the AGF and the EFCC chairman are members of the Nigerian delegation to the US- Nigeria Bi-National Commission where issues of mutual interest and economic benefits are usually discussed. Definitely, the recovery of looted funds will be dominant at the meetings with the AGF and EFCC chairman.”

Meanwhile, an Abuja High Court on March 27, 2013, struck out the case against six Nigerians arraigned over the scandal.

Those set free are a former Permanent Secretary, Ibrahim Aliyu, Mohammed Gidado Bakari and four companies.

The four companies are Urban Shelter Ltd., Intercellular Nigeria Ltd., Sherwood Petroleum Ltd., and Tri-Star Investment Ltd.

The six accused persons stood trial for allegedly serving as conduits and receiving bribes in hard currency to facilitate natural gas contracts between 1994 and 2005.

Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar said the prosecution had failed to diligently prosecute the case.

Also, Bodunde Adeyanju, Obasanjo’s former presidential aide, was arraigned in 2010 alongside George Mark, Jeffrey Tesler(now at large), Hans George Christ, Heinrich J. Stockhausen; Julius Berger Nigeria Plc and Bilfinger Berger GMBH.

It was learnt that Adeyanju has a pending application in the Supreme Court. Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria have been quizzed by the EFCC in connection with the scandal.

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