Malabu Oil Asks Court to Stop FG from Signing FID on $13.5bn Oil Project

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• Dutch police wiretapped phone of Shell’s CEO over acquisition of OPL 245
• Jonathan denies claim he received $200m from deal

Ejiofor Alike in Lagos and Alex Enumah in Abuja

In a bid to protect its stake in the disputed Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245, Malubu Oil and Gas Limited on Tuesday approached a Federal High Court in Abuja for an order of the court preventing the federal government, Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep Limited, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited and Nigerian Agip Exploration Company Limited from signing the Final Investment Decision (FID) on the $13.5 billion Zabazaba deepwater project.

The signing of the FID, according to Malabu Oil, has been slated for the second quarter of this year.
The company in a motion on notice is also asking for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the federal government and the Minister of Petroleum Resources from considering to revoke or revoking the reallocation of OPL 245 granted to the applicant by virtue of the first and second defendants’ letter of July 2, 2010, pending the determination of the suit.

The suit filed by J.A. Achimugwu on behalf of Malabu Oil and Gas was based on a THISDAY newspaper report that the federal government, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company and Agip were negotiating to sign the FID on the Zabazaba deepwater project by the second quarter of this year.

The federal government (first defendant), Minister of Petroleum Resources (second defendant), Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep (third defendant), Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (fourth defendant), Nigerian Agip Exploration Company (fifth defendant), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) (sixth defendant), and Chief Dan Etete (seventh defendant) were listed as defendants in the suit.
Justice John Tsoho has fixed May 18 for hearing of the motion.
The judge also granted leave to the applicant to serve the writ of summons and other processes on Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep at No. 21 and 22 Marina Avenue, Lagos.

Malabu Oil is further seeking an order of interlocutory injunction restraining each and all the defendants/respondents by themselves, their servants or agents or howsoever otherwise from offering for sale, selling, mortgaging or in any form whatsoever alienate and/or grant any oil prospecting licence or lease to any other person or persons in respect of Zabazaba deepwater and/or Etan oil fields located within the area of the OPL 245, the subject matter of this suit pending the hearing and determination of the suit.

Furthermore, the plaintiff is asking for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the first and second defendants/respondents by themselves, their servants or agents or howsoever otherwise from entering into any form of agreement with the third, fourth and fifth defendants/respondents or with any third parties to prospect for and/or explore for oil/petroleum products within the area covered by Zabazaba deepwater and/or Etan oil fields within the area covered by OPL 245, the subject matter of this suit pending the hearing and determination of this suit.

In the 29-paragraph affidavit, the plaintiff is claiming ownership of OPL 245 which was granted to it on April 29, 1998 and was reallocated to it on July 2, 2010 by the federal government and Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The plaintiff stated that its attention was drawn to a publication in THISDAY newspaper titled: “FG, Shell, Agip to sign FID for $13.5bn Zabazaba deepwater project in Q2 2017”.

Malabu held that by the said publication, the defendants were negotiating to “sign the Final Investment Decision for the $13.5 billion Zabazaba deepwater project located in Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245 in the second quarter of this year”.

The plaintiff said it was obligated by the doctrine of lis pendens not to pass any title or interest in OPL 245 the subject matter of this suit, to any person or persons while this suit is pending for determination.
In the affidavit in support of the motion deposed to by Mohammed Sani Abacha, he said he owns 50 per cent of the share capital of Malabu Oil and Gas and has been very much involved in the affairs of the company.

Abacha, son of the late Nigerian military dictator, General Sani Abacha, stated that Malabu Oil and Gas applied for the OPL 245 and was granted same by the Minister Petroleum Resources (seventh respondent) on April 29, 1998, via a letter of the allocation of OPL 245.
He also averred that in pursuance of the allocation of OPL 245 to the plaintiff, the plaintiff made payments of N50,000 as application fees, $10,000 as bid processing fees, and part payment of a deposit of $240,000 as signature bonus.

That on July 2, 2001, the federal government and Minister of Petroleum Resources revoked OPL 245 granted to the plaintiff.
Abacha further stated that the plaintiff sued the federal government at the Federal High Court over the said revocation of OPL 245 but the matter was subsequently resolved through an out-of-court settlement agreement by the parties.
That it was common understanding between the plaintiff and the federal government in the out-of-court settlement agreement that the federal government would reallocate OPL 245 to the plaintiff.

That while the reallocation to the plaintiff of OPL 245 was subsisting, the first, third, fourth, fifth defendants and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) surreptitiously entered into what they called a Block 245 resolution agreement dated April 29, 2011, wherein the defendants agreed inter alia that the federal government shall allocate OPL 245 to Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep and Nigerian Agip Exploration Company without the knowledge or consent of the plaintiff.
That the plaintiff was never a party to the Block 245 resolution agreement purporting to require the plaintiff to relinquish its rights and interests in OPL 245 to any of the defendants.

That the plaintiff had sourced for and entered into a contractual agreement with its technical partners for the effectual realisation of OPL 245 and unless the defendants are restrained, the applicant would be forced to breach the contractual agreements with its technical partners and thereby lose its international business goodwill and reputation.

Police Wiretapped Shell CEO

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the Dutch authorities reportedly wiretapped the telephone of Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive Ben van Buerden last year as part of an investigation into a corruption scandal involving OPL 245.

Van Buerden is allegedly heard discussing “loose chatter” between “people we hired from MI6”.
The information emerged after a recording of the call was leaked to BuzzFeed News and Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. The call between van Beurden and his then-chief financial officer Simon Henry allegedly took place in February 2016, hours after Dutch investigators had visited Shell’s headquarters at the Hague.

Van Buerden is reported to have said: “Apparently they have been in my office for about three or four hours going through everything.”
He then discussed “OPL 245”, the Nigerian oil licence which the company had acquired for £1.05 billion ($1.3 billion) in 2011.
“I have nothing on OPL 245, but anyway they managed to take one folder which they thought was of relevance … and apparently they have been in your office,” he said to Henry.

Shell said in a statement to the Financial Times: “We do not believe that there is a basis to prosecute Shell. Furthermore, we are not aware of any evidence to support a case against any former or current Shell employee.”
The licence had been under investigation for two decades because the rights for OPL 245 were awarded to a company allegedly controlled by Etete, Nigeria’s then petroleum minister, who allegedly received a huge windfall when Shell invested in the asset along with Eni’s Nigerian subsidiary, Agip.

Van Buerden also allegedly said in the phone call:
· Shell’s own investigation had discovered “unhelpful” and “stupid” email exchanges among former MI6 agents who the firm had hired to help broker the Nigeria deal.
· He said: “There was apparently some loose chatter between … people we hired from MI6, who … must have said things like, ‘Wonder who gets a pay-off here?’”

· The potential fallout for Shell in the United States, where the company was facing a separate Nigerian corruption case.
On Monday, Shell admitted for the first time that it negotiated with Etete — a convicted money-launderer in an unrelated case — having repeatedly denied the allegation, according to a BBC report. The admission came after emails were published showing direct negotiations between the two parties.
Investigators believe that £375 million of the sum Shell and Eni paid to acquire the oil field rights was laundered through a company controlled by Etete.

Jonathan Denies Getting $200m

But as the Malabu Oil deal continues to unravel, former President Goodluck Jonathan whose government brokered the out-of-court settlement in the protracted dispute between Malabu and Shell, denied allegations that he personally received $200 million from the deal.
A statement issued on Tuesday by his spokesman Mr. Ikechukwu Eze, said the allegations that the former president received $200 million as proceeds from the Malabu Oil deal were entirely false.

Responding to the news report published by Buzzfeed and replicated by some local newspapers, Eze said the report was “false in its entirety, and is one more in the series of fake news sponsored by those threatened by Dr. Jonathan’s continuously rising profile in the international community”.
He added: “Common sense should have shown the purveyors of this slander that the Malabu Oil deal far predated the Jonathan regime and it would only make sense for him to be bribed if he had a time machine to go back in time to when the deal was struck.

“The report relied on hearsay evidence from a man of questionable character who provided no substance to back up his false claim.
“The man quoted by the report said he ‘assumed’ that Dr. Jonathan would be bribed. Since when has the assumption of a crook been enough to smear the reputation of a patriot and international statesman like Dr. Goodluck Jonathan?”
Eze noted that the report also wrongly claimed that “Jonathan and Etete had known each other for years”, according to Shell staff, when Jonathan served as a tutor to Etete’s children while he was a minister.

“This claim is clearly ridiculous and nothing can be further from the truth,” he said.
“In the first place, the former president couldn’t have been a ‘tutor’ to Etete’s children without first establishing contact with the family.
“This is because Jonathan met Etete who served as the Petroleum Minister in General Abacha’s military regime for the first time under the succeeding civilian administration, when he was already the deputy governor of Bayelsa State.

“Even then, the fact remains that ex-President Jonathan has never met any of Etete’s children.
“Besides, Jonathan couldn’t have been anybody’s private tutor during that period, because he was already in the directorate cadre in the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC (now NDDC), having already left the academia at the time Etete was a serving minister.

“This story, coming so soon after the fake news that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan refused British help in rescuing the Chibok Girls (a story that the British Government debunked) and that he plans to contest the 2019 elections (another lie), proves that these fallacious stories are deliberately contrived for reasons that are yet to be publicly disclosed.

“It is instructive that this same old fable apparently intended to rubbish Jonathan’s name locally and internationally, is being recycled with more lies added to garnish the narrative, at a time the ex-President is making efforts to resolve the issues in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“Again, let us point out for clarity and for the umpteenth time that while he was in office and now that he is out of office, former President Jonathan did not open and does not own any bank account, aircraft or real estate outside Nigeria.
“Anyone with contrary information is challenged to publicly publish same.

“Finally, Dr. Jonathan appeals to the media to report facts rather than innuendo and gossip. He asks that the media ought to remember that he signed the Freedom of Information Act into law and it is only fair to use it to investigate allegations and establish the truth.
“Dr. Jonathan cannot stop criminals from ‘assuming’, but he can and he will stop them from getting away with blatant lies,” Eze added.