Ex-British Intelligence Officers Under Spotlight over Malabu Oil Deal


• Further investigations confirm no illegal conduct, says ENI

Ejiofor Alike with agency report

The role of two former MI6 officers employed by Shell in an allegedly corrupt oil deal is being investigated by Italian prosecutors, it emerged on Tuesday.

The deal concerns the sale of an oil block in Nigeria to Shell and Eni, the Italian state company, for $1.1 billion in 2011.

However, a statement from Eni on Wednesday said investigations carried out by an independent law firm have confirmed that there was no evidence of corruption in relation to the transaction.

Italian prosecutors have alleged Eni and Shell knew money paid to the Nigerian government for the exploration rights would be funnelled to other Nigerian individuals as bribes. The two companies have been charged in Italy along with 10 other individuals including Eni’s chief executive Claudio Descalzi, who Wednesday vehemently denied wrongdoing. Shell and ENI also deny wrongdoing.

It has emerged that two purported ex-MI6 men — John Copleston and Guy Colegate — were allegedly involved in the deal, reported British-based paper, Evening Standard.

The alleged scam saw the Nigerian government transfer $1.1 billion of the proceeds for the oil block sale from a JPMorgan account in London to bank accounts controlled by Malabu Oil and Gas Limited. It was subsequently claimed that Malabu’s beneficial owner was Dan Etete — the former oil minister who awarded the oil block in the first place. Etete denies the allegations against him.

According to the Evening Standard, Copleston and Colegate worked for Shell as strategic investment adviser and senior business adviser respectively. According to the prosecutor, they were both ex-MI6 officers and were allegedly negotiating with the Nigerians over the deal. The prosecutor alleges they breached compliance rules. Neither could be reached for comment and Shell declined to comment.

Colegate was named in a Wikileaks cable as a member of Shell’s kidnapping crisis team in Nigeria, and the British diplomatic list for 2006 names Copleston as a “counsellor (political)” for the Department for International Development in Lagos. Alleged MI6 identities widely leaked online say a John Copleston was working for the secret service in Lagos in 1993.

Anti-corruption organisation Global Witness has previously published a High Court document in which an email — reputedly from Copleston — discusses relations with the Nigerian leadership. One section states: “Meanwhile we are getting on very well personally — lunch and lots of iced champagne.”

Shell has strongly denied it knew the money it paid for the oil concession would be channelled to Etete.
Also, a statement from Eni Wednesday said investigations carried out by an independent law firm have confirmed that there was no evidence of corruption in relation to the transaction.

The company said: “Eni’s Board of Directors today takes note of the outcome of further forensic investigations into the 2011 transaction between Eni and Shell and the Nigerian Government for the acquisition of the OPL 245 licence in Nigeria.

“The investigations were conducted by an independent US law firm. They were commissioned by Eni’s Board of Statutory Auditors and Watch Structure.

“The investigations examined the new materials and further information filed by the Milan prosecutors as part of the closure of the investigation in December 2016.

“The law firm confirms the conclusions reached by previous investigations in 2015, stating that there is no evidence of corrupt conduct in relation to the transaction.”
Eni added that its Board of Directors confirmed its total confidence that neither the company nor Descalzi were involved in the alleged illicit conduct under investigation.