Trial continued in an Italian court on Wednesday over the controversial $1.3 billion OPL 245 deal between Shell, Eni-Agip and Malabu in 2011, with a star witness alleging that Eni-Agip officials knew that bribes would paid to Nigerian politicians.
Vincenzo Armanna, former Eni manager and defendant in the corruption trial, also informed the court that Mohammed Bello Adoke, former Nigerian attorney-general, told Eni officials that they were at the risk of being arrested because they were negotiating kickbacks.
The defendant said there were suspicions and unease over the involvement of Emeka Obi in the negotiations. Obi has since been jailed for corruption in the OPL 245 affair.
Armanna is accused of having benefited from alleged kickbacks from the deal, although he said the $1.2 million he collected from Bayo Ojo, the former Nigerian attorney-general, was an “inheritance”.
Ojo was the attorney-general when the federal government reached an out-of-court settlement with Malabu in 2006 and agreed to return the oil block to the Nigerian company.
Meanwhile, Fabio De Pasquale, the Italian prosecutor, also told the court in Milan on Wednesday that Eni tried to “tamper” with Armanna to withdraw some statements he made during investigations.
THE OPL 245 SAGA
In 1998, the federal military government awarded OPL 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, which was said to be owned mainly by Mohammed Abacha, son of the Sani Abacha, and Dan Etete, who was the petroleum minister at the time.
In 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo revoked Malabu’s licence and assigned the oil block to Shell — without a public bid. Malabu went to court, and ownership was reverted to it in 2006 after it reached an out-of-court settlement with the federal government.
Shell fought back and commenced arbitration against Nigeria, but when President Goodluck Jonathan came to power in 2010, the controversy appeared to have been resolved with Shell and Eni agreeing to buy the oil block from Malabu for $1.1 billion.
The oil companies also paid $210 million as signature bonus to the federal government of Nigeria.
Both payments were made to the federal government account at JP Morgan, London, from where Malabu’s share was transferred to Nigerian bank accounts of Abubakar Aliyu, owner of AA Oil Ltd.
However, investigators are trying to establish that the bulk of the payment to Malabu was distributed as kickbacks and that the IOCs were in the know of the alleged sleaze — a charge they denied.
Barnaby Pace, a campaigner with London-based Global Witness which has been working on the OPL 245 deal for a decade, tweeted Armanna’s testimony in court.