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Malabu oil deal: Italian court jails two suspects for four years, confiscates €100m

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THE two middlemen in the controversial Malabu Oil deal has been sentenced to four years imprisonment, as well as confiscations of over €100 million by an Italian court on Thursday, the global witness reports.

The men, Emeka Obi (a Nigerian) and Gianluca Di Nardo (an Italian) were found guilty of corruption offences relating to Shell and Eni’s 2011 purchase of Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245, which is believed to be one of Nigeria’s most promising oil licenses.

According to the report, the conviction is coming just days before the trial for the major bribery suit begins. Obi and Di Nardo had opted for a fast-tracked trial for their role in the deal. The fast-track process in Italian law offers a possible reduction in any sentence. A larger trial including Shell, Eni and 13 other defendants is ongoing.  The prosecution will start presenting their evidence next Wednesday.

“Today sees the first men fall in the murky Malabu scandal. As Shell and Eni’s trial looms, time will tell whether it’s just the middlemen who pay the price for this epic crime against the Nigerian people,” said Barnaby Pace, anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness.

“But one thing’s for certain: this judgment will send shivers down the corporate spines of the oil industry – and will surely alarm Shell and Eni employees and shareholders who have been repeatedly told that there was nothing amiss with the OPL 245 deal,” he added.

The larger trial involves many of Shell and Eni’s top executives, both serving and former. For years, Shell had claimed that it only paid the Nigerian Government for the OPL 245 oil block but in 2017, the company admitted it had dealt with Dan Etete who had awarded the OPL 245 oil block to his own secretly owned company, Malabu, while serving as Oil Minister.

The case against Eni and Shell, which was filed by the Milan Public Prosecutor, alleged that $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials.

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Prosecutors further allege that money was also channelled to Eni and Shell executives with $50 million in cash delivered to the home of Eni’s Chief Operations and Technology Officer, Roberto Casula.

“Today’s conviction vindicates what the international and Nigerian civil society has claimed for years. OPL 245 was a corrupt deal,” Lanre Suraju, Chairman of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, a Nigerian non-governmental organization, told the Global Witness.

OPL 245 was fraudulently acquired by Malabu, a company owned by Dan Etete, former Minister of Petroleum Resources. Etete reportedly paid a paltry $2 million dollars to acquire the oil licence, and then sold it for $1.3 billion to Shell and Eni, two international giant oil companies, in 2011.

About $800 million from the proceeds of the oil license was allegedly shared among some top government officials including ex-President Jonathan, former petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, former Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, and others.

Already, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has filed charges against Adoke with regards to the Malabu scandal, but the former AGF has maintained that all his actions in relation to the deal were as directed by Jonathan.

So far, all the parties in the scandal namely: Shell, Eni, Jonathan, Alison-Madueke, Etete and Adoke, have all denied any wrongdoing.

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