Latest news on the lingering controversy over the Malabu Oil Block(OPL 245) indicated that President Muhammadu Buhari had jettisoned the advice of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, proposal on how to resolve the legal hiccups on the case.
The President, in addition to insisting that the criminal proceedings against some suspects indicted in the OPL 245 scandal should continue, has directed the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Department of Petroleum Resources to suspend any action on the development of the oil well.
The OPL 245, which is an offshore oil block with about nine billion barrels of crude, was auctioned for $1.3 billion (1.1 billion euros) with the Federal Government receiving only $210 million as Signature Bonus while about $1.092 billion was traced to a private account in a London bank.
The cash was suspected to be slush funds allegedly used to bribe some middlemen and politicians even as a former President was accused of benefiting about $200 million from the deal.
Before the latest Presidential directive, the AGF had on September 17, 2018 advised the President on four issues relating to the oil block.
Specifically, Malami advised the Federal Government to discontinue the civil case on OPL 245 in a Milan, Italy court and payment of its counsel for services rendered during the case; and to discontinue all criminal matters in Nigeria in connection with the oil block deal.
In addition, the AGF recommended that the President allow the relevant agencies to sign Heads of Agreement with Eni and Shell; and that the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the Department of Petroleum Resources(DPR) be mandated to begin the process of operating the well.
Some of the top government and political functionaries that had been charged on one allegation or the other on the controversial Malabu oil deal are, a former Petroleum Resources Minister, Dan Etete, former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Bello Adoke (SAN), former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke; as well as some businessmen and top officials of Eni and Shell.
The AGF was said to have stated in his advice on the pending case that “there was nothing in the proof of evidence to support the charge of money laundering against suspects and it is therefore impossible for the prosecution to prove the elements, which include illicit funds transfer for such through various channels to re-introduce same again into the regular financial system as legitimate funds in financial institutions etc.”
A source in the Presidency privy to the contents of the AGF’s Memo disclosed that the AGF “wanted the Federal Government to pursue Nigeria’s possible investment in the disputed oil blocks rather than trying to repossess it or prosecute former Nigerian government officials or Shell or Agip-Eni chiefs involved in the deal.
“He said the Public Officers Protection Act CAP P41 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 limits liability of Public Officers to a period of three months much naturally come to mind, considering their claim that the acts which are complained of were authorised by the three presidents before this current administration”, the source added.
Apparently not convinced about the legal positions of the AGF on the multi-billion dollar fraud case, President Buhari was said to have in a Memo dated October 29, 2018 through his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, rejected the AGF’s legal views on the OPL 245.
The source in the Presidency was quoted as saying that President Buhari wanted the law to run its full course on the controversial Malabu oil deal.
The source said: “The position of the President is that there was no way the government would discontinue all the cases in court when a Milan judge on September 20, 2018 has already sentenced two men – a Nigerian, Emeka Obi, and an Italian, Gianluca Di Nardo – to a four-year prison term. They were both negotiators during the sale of controversial OPL 245.
”They were jailed in respect of alleged international corruption case involving oil giants Eni and Shell on OPL 245. In fact, while the court asked Obi to forfeit $98.4 million, Dino lost 21 million Swiss francs ($21.8 million, 18.6 million euros) in fines”, the source added.
He explained that President Buhari wanted all relevant anti-graft agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to sustain their investigations of the Malabu oil block deal in view of the latest judgment of the Milan Court.