The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has written to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to back off on his administrationâ€™s legal battles against the principal actors in the controversial Malabu Oil deal.
The raging scandal over the OPL 245 oil block began in 2011 when the President Goodluck Jonathan administration approved its purchase by Shell and Agip-Eni from Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd., a firm with ties to Dan Etete, a Minister of Petroleum from 1995 to 1998.
The Jonathan administration officials who participated in the negotiation preceding the controversial sale of the massive oil block included Mohammed Bello Adoke, Attorney-General at the time; and Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was petroleum minister.
Mr. Jonathan himself was named by investigators as being involved in the alleged fraud, but the former president strongly denies the charges.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been pursuing fraud and criminal conspiracy charges against Mr. Adoke, Mr. Etete and their alleged accomplices since 2016. Messrs. Adoke and Etete are believed to be at large, and the anti-graft agency had repeatedly sought to fish them out.
Adoke, Etete, Alison-Madueke and all other officials named in the scandal have denied wrongdoings.
Adoke said the sale was approved to save Nigeria from huge financial losses that could arise from international arbitration lawsuits.
In his letter to Buhari, Malami said, following due examination of the case files. he was able to determine that the EFCC has no significant evidence to prove its allegations of sharp practices against prominent players like Adoke, Alison-Madueke and others.
Besides, Malami said the Nigerian government risks being portrayed before the international community and foreign investors as an unserious country that could not be trusted to live up to its obligations to international partners.
â€œClearly, potential investors will not have the confidence to invest in Nigeria if the government of the country is perceived as one which does not honour its commitments,â€ Adoke said of the OPL 245 oil deal which was approved by at least three former Nigerian Attorneys-General.
The September 27, 2017 letter advised the president to pursue Nigeriaâ€™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.
Premium Times recently obtained a copy of the letter, but excerpts of it were published by The Cable earlier this month.
It came as the EFCC ramps up legal efforts towards bringing Adoke back into Nigeria to face prosecution.
But Malami insisted that the anti-graft office is on a wild goose chase and that the president should immediately intervene to save Nigeria from international embarrassment and reputation damage.
â€œThere is nothing to show that the parties as constituted were at all times working together and having â€˜meeting of the mindâ€™ to wit to forge CAC documents and use same for the purpose of divesting the shares of the complainants and thereafter enter into a settlement agreement with FGN and other parties to take delivery of the proceeds of sale OPL 245.
â€œThere is also nothing in the proof of evidence to support the charge of money laundering 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.
â€œWithout the express proof of these elements, the count may not be sustained on the premise of the attached proof of evidence.
â€œThe EFCC investigation and attached proof of evidence do not appear to have clearly revealed the case of fraud against the parties who claimed to have acted in their official capacities with the approval of three consecutive presidents of the federal government of Nigeria at the time with further claim that the matter was intended to be resolved in national interest thereby saving the country acrimonious litigations resulting in high legal fees and the dormancy of the oil field while litigation lasted,â€ Malami said.
He said Nigeria should take advantage of some favourable clauses in the agreement that allowed for governmentâ€™s ownership of a part of the oil field.
â€œYour Excellency, the beneficial approach I counsel in the circumstances is for the federal government to take advantage of the terms of the agreement under clauses five and 11 to acquire a stake in the OPL 245 converting it to a production sharing contract (PSC) between FGN/NNPC, Shell and Agip after negotiating with the ENI/Shell to absorb the cost of the FGN/NNPC entry under the said clauses five and 11 through the PSC mechanism,â€ Malami said.
The Nigerian government, through the EFCC, has been trying to take possession of the lucrative oil deal, estimated to hold more than nine billion barrels of crude.
However, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, has been mounting pressure on the administration to allow Agip-Eni continue development of some parts of the field.
â€œTotal investment from Agip involved in both the Zabazaba field, the power plant and the new refinery is in excess of $15 billion. That is major push in terms of our search for investment,â€™â€™ Kachikwu said after emerging from another meeting with then-Acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the State House on May 9, 2017.
The confusion in Nigeria over the scandal continues as Italian prosecutors are proceeding with criminal charges against Shell executives suspected to be involved in the OPL 245 deal. The prosecutors are also reportedly making progress in their criminal allegations against some Nigerian players named in the scandal.