A major witness in the long-running Malabu oil scandal on Wednesday told an Italian court that Eni officials knew that the controversial payment made in the deal would go to Malabu oil company, controlled by Nigeria’s former oil minister, Dan Etete.
Vincenzo Armanna, former Eni manager and defendant in the corruption trial, said in his testimony that it was clear to everyone involved in the deal that Mr Etete would get over $1 billion, adding that there was no doubt the money was going to Malabu.
The former Eni manager appeared before the court in Milan to give testimony about his involvement in the controversial deal.
Reacting to the prosecutor’s comment that Eni’s legal officer denied knowing the money would go to Mr Etete, Mr Armanna alleged that they all knew as they drafted the agreements including the escrow agreement which mentioned Malabu.
According to Barnaby Pace of British transparency group Global Witness, who monitored the court proceedings, Mr Armanna also claimed that it was an explicit request by Eni, rather than Shell, to filter the money through the Nigerian government so that if asked by the media, they could say that they paid the government and not Malabu.
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Mr Etete.
From accounts controlled by Mr Etete, about half the money ($520 million) went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil.
Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by Mr Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
Although Shell and ENI initially claimed they did not know the money would end up with Mr Etete and his cronies, evidence has shown that claim to be false.
Shell, Eni, Mr Etete, Mr Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are being prosecuted in Italy for their roles in the scandal.
On Wednesday in Italy, the prosecutor said that there was evidence that there were attempts to influence a witness and that people approached Mr Armanna and tried to intimidate him into withdrawing his evidence.
The witness in his testimony said he received $1.2 million from Bayo Ojo, a former Nigerian Attorney General, but claimed that it was an “inheritance”.
Mr Armanna also accused his former colleagues at Eni of knowing that bribes would be paid to Nigerian officials, adding that they were planning kickbacks for themselves.
He disclosed that the middleman, Emeka Obi’s companies were strange, and were both empty. They wouldn’t pass Eni’s due diligence, he said, stressing that all people involved would have to be identified and this was not possible. He added, however, that Eni saw the OPL 245 deal as a lifeline and source of big oil reserves as the oil giant was close to shutting down Eni Nigeria.
The former Eni chief noted that the role of Mr Etete and his conviction for money laundering were known inside Eni, as it was discussed and the company’s legal office knew about it.
Mr Armanna said Ednan Agaev, the other middleman, was very well known and respected, as he was close to Mr Jonathan and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. He also disclosed the pseudonyms given to different parties to the deal, saying Mr Etete was often referred to as “The fat man”, Mr Jonathan as “Fortunato” and former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke as “La Senora” and the project to buy OPL 245 was called “Clear Vision”.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how a British judge had also said she was convinced the ‘fortunato’ referenced in various OPL 245 mails referred to Mr Jonathan.
Mr Agaev had in June spoken about his relationships with Messrs Obasanjo and others.
On the role played by Bello Adoke, a former Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Armanna said he (Adoke)told them the $200 million fee for Obi was too high. He added that at a meeting, Shell manager Peter Robinson and general counsel Nike Olafimihan said the payment could blow the deal.
The witness equally told the court that Mr Adoke confronted them all when they met in his office to negotiate in November, saying the problem was them trying to get kickbacks and they were all at risk of being arrested. He added that it was unusual for the attorney-general to manage the negotiations, saying the oil minister and president would normally make the decisions.
He disclosed further that the NNPC and DPR were also involved and opposed the deal, as they did not want money to go to Malabu.
Mr Armanna added that Mr Adoke eventually left the office and convinced Mr. Etete to accept the higher $1.3 billion offer though they still had issues with Malabu’s rights to OPL 245, considered questionable and which never passed the due diligence. He alleged further that the negotiations were all video taped while Mr Adoke’s assistant played back a video of Casula Roberto, another party to the deal, agreeing to some terms when they were dealing with details later.
The witness also disclosed that Mr Obi was cut out of the negotiations, noting that they thought Mr Etete would just pay him $40 million. He explained that he did not know about Mr Obi’s later meetings in Milan or with Mr Etete. He disclosed further that Mr Obi told him half his fee was for ex-petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke who he called aunty but he did not believe him.
Speaking on the kickbacks, Mr Armanna said he was told about cash being taking to Mr Casula’s house by Victor Nwafor, a security service agent in Mr Jonathan’s bodyguard. Mr Nwafor has already given evidence in the trial and denied knowledge.
Mr Jonathan, who is not facing any trial over the case, has also denied wrongdoing. Ditto Mr Adoke.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that Mr Armanna’s testimony will resume Monday afternoon in Milan.