June 19, 2024

US Congress set to reopen Nigeria’s controversial OPL 245 case against Shell, Eni

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Adewale Akintaro

The United States House of Representatives is reportedly making moves to reopen a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FCPA, enquiry against multinational oil companies Shell and Eni regarding their 2011 purchase of the rights to the controversial Oil Prospecting License, OPL, 245, one of Nigeria’s most lucrative oilfields.

In a petition to Merrick Garland, Attorney General of the United States, urging the reopening of the investigation by the Department of Justice, DOJ, the House stated that “available evidence implicates both companies in a scheme that resulted in the payment of $1.1 billion in bribes to Nigerian government officials, including then-President Goodluck Jobathan”.

“Shell and Eni, both registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continue to profit from the deal in violation of the FCPA,” read the letter dated May 8, 2024 and signed by Representative Maxine Waters of the Committee on Financial Services, and Representative Joyce Beatty of the Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions

The House maintained, in the letter, that “allegations of corruption surrounding OPL 245 began in 1998, when Dan Etete, a convicted money launderer and Nigeria’s former Oil Minister during the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, awarded the OPL 245 license to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company whose principal shareholders were revealed to be Etete himself and the son of General Abacha”.

The rights to OPL 245, according to the petition from the Congress, continued to be marred with corruption and in 2000, Malabu’s share registry was was changed to reflect a 505 shareholding by Pecos Energy, a company secretly controlled by then-President Obasanjo and his Vice President, the letter stated, adding that Malabu’s license was revoked in 2001 but restored in 2006, with evidence that suggesting that bribes paid to then-Attorney General Bayo Ojo played a key role in that decision.

The House alleged that Shell and Eni then purchased the license from Malabu in 2011 for $1.3 billion with knowledge that a portion of the proceeds would be used to bribe numerous Nigerian officials. It added that hundreds of millions of dollars passed through various Nigerian shell companies linked to Aliyu Abubakar, a businessman known in his country “Mr. Corruption”.

“Then-President Goodluck Jonathan was said to have pocketed some $200 million froom the sale, and the former Attorney General involved in the 2006 reinstatement of Malabu’s license also purportedly received a sizeable payout

“Other funds would later be traced to the purchase of real estate in the U.S., Dubai, Brazil, and Switzerland, as well as luxury vehicles and gems,” the House petition also read.

In further urging the re-opening of the case, the House stated that the harm to the Nigerian people would continue to be felt beyond the immediate payment of bribes, with experts alleging that the country lost $6 billion in estimated future revenue – double the size of Nigeria’s annual health and education budget.

According to the petition, in 2013, there was sufficient evidence for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, and the money laundering investigation into the deal, which was followed by an FCPA investigation. In 2019, the DOJ notified Eni that the U.S. had closed the inquiries in light of Italy’s own prosecution of the case, yet it noted that the file could be reopened if circumstances changed.

The House noted that Shell and Eni were were subsequently acquitted by the Italian court yet the companies “continue to profit from their exploitation of the OPL 245 deal.”

“The United States has consistently demonstrated global leadership in the fight against foreign bribery, with the FCPA swerving as model legislation for countries around the world.

“The reopening of the of the case would further illustrate the U.S. commitment “to aggressively pursu

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