By Davidson Iriekpen
The names of some senior Nigerian businessmen and officials have cropped up in not just one but at least four investigations in Italy linked to the giant oil major ENI.
On December 20, 2016, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed fraud charges against a former Attorney-General, Mohammed Adoke; former Minister of Petroleum and alleged owner of Malabu Oil and Gas, Dan Etete; and controversial businessman, Abubakar Aliyu for their roles in the contested 2011 sale of offshore block OPL 245 by Malabu Oil and Gas.
At the same time in Milan, Italian prosecutors posted a notice that they had closed their investigation and “warned” of formal charges upcoming against 11 individuals including Etete; five former and current Eni employees including both the former CEO, Paolo Scaroni and current CEO, Claudio Descalzi; and five middlemen said to have been involved in the allegedly corrupt transaction.
Meanwhile, public prosecutors in Trani and Syracuse as well as Milan have launched investigations into what has been described in the Italian media as a plot to remove Eni’s CEO, Claudio Descalzi – and well-known Nigerian public officials and businessmen have been implicated in this as well.
A number of Nigerian public officials and businessmen have been named as being involved in the alleged plot against Descalzi.
The Italian newspaper has reported that two non-executive directors at Eni, Luigi Zingales , who resigned in 2015, and Karina Litvack, reportedly extracted information from Nigeria to use as leverage against Descalzi.
Their reported aim was to replace Descalzi with Umberto Vergine, the CEO of part owned Eni subsidiary, Sapiem.
Unnamed Nigerians reportedly sent emails to both Zingales and Litvack who in turn passed this information on to the famous journalist Claudio Gatti who has repeatedly written negative stories about the leadership of Eni.
The information relating to the OPL245 investigation was allegedly used by individuals within the ENI board to damage Descalzi’s standing within Eni.
The ownership of Malabu Oil and Gas and OPL 245 has long been the subject of dispute.
It was first awarded in 1998 by military leader, Sani Abacha to Malabu Oil and Gas for a publicly-stated $20 million.
Following Abacha’s death President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government annulled the deal, only for Malabu’s licence to be reinstated in 2006.
There are various allegations that Etete unlawfully doctored Malabu’s corporate documents, most famously cutting out an initial shareholder in Malabu, one “Mohammed Sani” – an alias for Sani Abacha’s son, Mohammed Abacha.
The Italian newspaper Giornalistica Repubblica reported that the investigations by Trani and Syracuse prosecutors into the existence of an international conspiracy aiming to destabilise the leadership of Eni were part of a wider investigation into illegal trafficking of waste and precious stones.
The article names a former Saipem manager, Pietro Varone, an oil and gas entrepreneur, Gabriele Volpi, “Sani Abutcha” (presumably Mohammed Abacha), and a certain “Pesal” – a Nigerian company linked to deceased former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Further Nigerians later named include another former Attorney General, Adebayo Ojo, and former Minister of Defence, Mohammed Gusau.
Likewise, as quoted in Il Fatto Quotidiano (9 July 2016) former Eni executive Vincenzo Armanna is quoted as saying that “an important Nigerian businessman in the oil sector is behind the alleged plot to topple Eni’s CEO.”
It is noteworthy that Gabriele Volpi, a leading figure in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry in Port Harcourt, is connected to Gianfranco Falcioni, one of the 11 individuals named in the Italian Public Prosecutor’s Notice published before Christmas.
Falcioni is named “for accepting the task to distribute the moneys transferred by Eni for the OPL 245 licence” and opening the bank account number A209798 on behalf of Petrol Service Co LP at BSI Lugano [Bank], onto which on 31 May 2011 the sum of $1,092,040,00 was deposited”. The Italian prosecutors note that the sum was sent back from BSI Lugano to JP Morgan Chase London a few days later for “compliance” reasons. It is widely understood instead that $801,540,000 from this total was later transferred to two accounts associated with Malabu Oil and Gas, and according to information by the EFCC and the House of Representatives, six other Nigerian companies – all associated with Aliyu Abubakar, and Etete.