Lagos — Court testimonies from a new witness has further indicted Nigeria’s former oil minister, Dan Etete alongside some of the former president, Goodluck Jonathan’s ministers in the ongoing $1.3 billion Malabu deal.
Vincenzo Armanna, former Eni manager and defendant in the corruption trial, on Wednesday, told an Italian court in Milan, that Eni officials knew that the payment for one of Nigeria’s choicest oil block, OPL 245, was made with adequate knowledge it would go to Malabu oil company controlled by Nigeria’s former oil minister, Dan Etete.
According to him, it was clear from the outset that Etete would get over $1 billion, adding that there was no doubt the money was going to Malabu.
Fresh evidence in court revealed attempts to intimidate Armanna into withdrawing his evidence.
The witness in his testimony said he received $1.2 million from Bayo Ojo, a former Nigerian Attorney General, but claimed that it was an “inheritance”.
Armanna also accused his former colleagues at Eni of knowing that bribes would be paid to Nigerian officials, adding that they were planning kickbacks for themselves.
He disclosed that the middleman, Emeka Obi’s companies were strange, and were both empty. They wouldn’t pass Eni’s due diligence, he said, stressing that all people involved would have to be identified and this was not possible. He added, however, that Eni saw the OPL 245 deal as a lifeline and source of big oil reserves as the oil giant was close to shutting down Eni Nigeria.
The former Eni chief noted that the role of Etete and his conviction for money laundering were known inside Eni, as it was discussed and the company’s legal office knew about it.
Armanna said Ednan Agaev, the other middleman, was very well known and respected, as he was close to Jonathan and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. He also disclosed the pseudonyms given to different parties to the deal, saying Etete was often referred to as “The fat man”, Jonathan as “Fortunato” and former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke as “La Senora” and the project to buy OPL 245 was called “Clear Vision”.
A British judge had earlier on in the case, said she was convinced the ‘Fortunato’ referenced in various OPL 245 mails referred to Jonathan.
On the role played by Bello Adoke, a former Attorney General of the Federation, Armanna said he (Adoke) told them the $200 million fee for Obi was too high. He added that at a meeting, Shell manager Peter Robinson and general counsel Nike Olafimihan said the payment could blow the deal.
The witness equally told the court that Adoke confronted them all when they met in his office to negotiate in November, saying the problem was them trying to get kickbacks and they were all at risk of being arrested. He added that it was unusual for the attorney-general to manage the negotiations, saying the oil minister and president would normally make the decisions.
He disclosed further that the NNPC and DPR were also involved and opposed the deal, as they did not want money to go to Malabu.
Armanna added that Adoke eventually left the office and convinced Etete to accept the higher $1.3 billion offer though they still had issues with Malabu’s rights to OPL 245, considered questionable and which never passed the due diligence. He alleged further that the negotiations were all videotaped while Adoke’s assistant played back a video of Casula Roberto, another party to the deal, agreeing to some terms when they were dealing with details later.
The witness also disclosed that Obi was cut out of the negotiations, noting that they thought Etete would just pay him $40 million. He explained that he did not know about Obi’s later meetings in Milan or with Etete. He disclosed further that Obi told him half his fee was for ex-petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke who he called aunty but he did not believe him.
Speaking on the kickbacks, Armanna said he was told about cash being taking to Casula’s house by Victor Nwafor, a security service agent in Jonathan’s bodyguard. Nwafor has already given evidence in the trial and denied knowledge.
Jonathan, who is not facing any trial over the case, has also denied wrongdoing, likewise Adoke.
Armanna’s testimony will resume Monday afternoon in Milan.
Reacting to the prosecutor’s comment that Eni’s legal officer denied knowing the money would go to Etete, Armanna alleged that they all knew as they drafted the agreements including the escrow agreement which mentioned Malabu.
According to Barnaby Pace of British transparency group Global Witness, who monitored the court proceedings, Armanna also claimed that it was an explicit request by Eni, rather than Shell, to filter the money through the Nigerian government so that if asked by the media, they could say that they paid the government and not Malabu.