By Kunle Adedoyin
The Federal Government on Thursday alleged that former President Goodluck Jonathan and some officials in his government possibly hid or failed to document fraudulent payments made in the controversial Malabu oil scandal.
The government made the allegation in a fresh skeleton argument presented through its lawyers during a case management conference on Thursday.
The argument was presented on behalf of the government by attorneys representing Nigeria, including Roger Masefield, Richard Blakeley, and Ben Woolgar.
Other officials named by the government as accomplices are the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke.
In May, the government had accused Jonathan and Allison-Madueke of accepting bribes and breaking the country’s laws to broker the $1.3 billion oil deal in 2011.
In papers advancing the London commercial court suit against oil multinational Shell and Eni, lawyers to the Nigerian government said the officials conspired to “receive bribes and make a secret profit”, keeping the government from getting what it was owed from the deal.
“Bribes were paid. The receipt of those bribes and the participation in the scheme of said officials was in breach of their fiduciary duties and Nigerian criminal law,” the filing showed.
In the court filing, the Nigerian government also sought about $3.5 billion in damages from oil giants Eni and Shell over the controversial Malabu oil deal. The government accused ENI, Shell, Malabu and other defendants of, among others, “fraud or/and bribery, dishonest assistance and unlawful means of conspiracy.”
In his reaction, Mr Jonathan, who is not under any probe on the matter, fiercely denied the allegation.
A statement by Ikechukwu Eze, his Media Adviser, described the allegation that Jonathan acted corruptly and may have received bribes as “recycled falsehood that is blatantly dishonest, cheap, and predictable.”
The controversial Malabu scandal involves the transfer of about $1.1 billion by oil multinationals, Shell and ENI, through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete.
Prosecutors alleged that half the money ($520 million) went to the accounts of companies jointly controlled by Abubakar Aliyu, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil, and Etete.
Investigators and activists suspect Aliyu fronted for top officials of Jonathan’s administration, as well of officials of Shell and ENI.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers, and the money was payment for the block, considered one of Nigeria’s most lucrative.
Although Shell and ENI initially claimed they did not know the money would end up with Etete and his cronies, evidence has shown that claim to be false.
Shell later admitted it did know the money would go to Etete.
Shell, ENI, Etete, Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are being prosecuted in Nigeria and Italy for their roles in the scandal.
In the fresh argument dated July 11, lawyers to the Nigerian government disclosed that it is unlikely that Jonathan and others named as “perpetrators” in the controversial Malabu payment created documents reflecting the alleged fraudulent “scheme”.
The allegations were made in reaction to some lingering disputes arising from the acceptable model of disclosures between the claimant (Nigerian government) and the defendant (JP Morgan Chase).
“It is inherently unlikely that the perpetrators of the fraudulent Scheme who worked for the FRN (including President Jonathan, Attorney General Adoke, and Minister of Petroleum Resources Allison-Madueke) would have created documents reflecting the Scheme,” the court argument said.
“Even if they had, it is even less likely that they would have left them in the relevant ministry or other government repository when they left office.
“As explained in Cary2, the FRN’s solicitors, RPC, have already conducted a scoping exercise in Abuja, and have visited the relevant ministry buildings, consulting with relevant personnel.”
The lawyers argued that the result of their findings showed that there are no evidential materials to be searched on the subject matter in Nigerian government offices.
“There are no electronic documents available to be searched, because neither the FRN itself nor the relevant ministries maintained any sort of email server or electronic document storage system,” the document reads.
“The principal method of communication within the FGN at the time was a system of written memoranda and letters, which were then stored in ‘Registries’ at each of the relevant ministries. For the reasons set out in (1) above, it is implausible that the Registries will contain significant material which will assist the Court in assessing whether there was in fact a fraud on the FRN.”