- Italy probes Shell over Malabu oil deal
The United States will invest more than $600 million in Nigeria this year, Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday in Washington.
He spoke during the opening session of the U.S.- Nigeria Bi-National Commission meeting.
The Nigerian delegation was led by Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyema, supported by other officials including Nigerian Charge d’Affaires Hakeem Balogun.
Those with Kerry include leaders from the State Department, USAID, the Defence Department, Commerce Department, and other key agencies. The U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle also attended.
Kerry, who hailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s actions in office in the area of security and the attaempt to diversify the economy, said:”Our development assistance this year will top $600 million, and we are working closely with your leaders – the leaders of your health ministry – to halt the misery that is spread by HIV/AIDS, by malaria, and by TB.
“Our Power Africa Initiative is aimed at strengthening the energy sector, where shortage in electricity has frustrated the population and impeded growth.
“And our long-term food security programme, Feed the Future, is helping to create more efficient agriculture and to raise rural incomes in doing that.
“Our Young African Leaders Programme, in which many Nigerians participate, is preparing the next generation to take the reins of responsibility….and in education, we are working together to try to fight illiteracy, especially in the country’s north, where the lack of opportunity has been holding people back, and where the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, has murdered thousands and disrupted the lives of millions.”
Kerry condemned the Bokoharam activities, promising U.S. support to finish off the sect and end its terrorist activities.
On investment, he recalled that the U.S. Commerce Secretary Pritzker “has been among the first senior U.S. officials who have been to Nigeria recently. In her case, it was to highlight investment opportunities and that is a theme that has been reinforced by yesterday’s business forum here in Washington.”
On Boko Haram, Kerry said: “Under President Buhari, Nigeria has been taking the fight to Boko Haram and it has reduced Boko Haram’s capacity to launch full-scale attacks.
“However, the group still remains a threat – a serious threat – to the entire region.
“And in recent months, our governments have been collaborating on new ways to institute security measures, including counter-IED equipment, improved information sharing, and training and equipping two infantry battalions.
“Now, I want to be clear, this aid is predicated on the understanding that, even when countering a group as ruthless as Boko Haram, security forces have a duty to set the standard with respect to human rights. One abuse does not excuse another.
Onyema expressed optimism on a successful outcome as the meeting went into a closed session.
In the meantime, a new twist was added yesterday to the lingering corruption allegation over the Malabu offshore oil block (OPL 245) bought by Shell and Eni from Nigeria for $1.3bn as Italian prosecutors commenced investigation of the deal as part of a probe into acquisition of the controversial oil field. A report monitored by National Mirror on Reuters indicated that notice of proceedings had been initiated by the Public Prosecutor in Italy.
It was also confirmed that Shell was under investigation by Milan-based judges for alleged international corruption. A top official of the British oil company, Shell, was quoted yesterday as saying that the company “is cooperating with the authorities and is looking into the allegations, which it takes seriously,” and that it “attaches the greatest importance to business integrity, one of our core values,” According to reliable sources, Italian prosecutors are said to be working closely with an anti-fraud team in the Netherlands in order to determine whether the two oil companies paid bribes to obtain licences for the Nigerian oil block.
The OPL 245 block, which has been at the centre of a series of long-standing disputes, was initially awarded in 1998 by former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company in which he holds substantial shares.
The field was later sold in 2011 to Eni and Shell. Shell, which sold some Nigerian assets in 2015, has been active in the country since 1937. According to documents from a British court, Malabu Oil received $1.09bn from the sale of the oil block which is estimated to have up to nine billion barrels of crude oil, while the rest went to the Nigerian government.
Royal Dutch Shell’s headquarters in the Hague was reportedly searched last month by Dutch police and prosecutors as part of this new strand of investigations. It would be recalled that in 2014 a Milan court had placed Eni under investigation over the $1.3bn (about 901m pounds) purchase in 2011 of Nigeria’s OPL-245 offshore oil block by the Italian major and Shell. Prosecutors later expanded the scope of their investigation to include Eni Chief Executive, Claudio Descalzi. While the state-controlled oil company and its CEO denied any wrongdoing, the former has insisted that it dealt exclusively with the government of Nigeria, paid fees into a government account and did not use intermediaries for the transaction.
Prior to the latest investigations by Italian prosecutors, the oil block and the transactions on it had been subject of public discourse both in Nigeria and other countries, including efforts by the Federal Government a few weeks ago to get more details about the controversial deal. For instance, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, recently re-opened investigations into the scandal and invited the immediate past Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, to explain his role in the alleged transfer of about $1.1bn to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited for the sale of oil block OPL 245. Rather than honouring the anti-graft agency’s invitation promptly, Adoke, in a letter to the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, dated December 31, 2015, claimed he acted in the best interest of the country and accused some top politicians and online media as orchestrating smear campaign against him.
Adoke stated that Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245 was granted to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited by the administration of late General Sani Abacha, in 1998 and was subsequently revoked by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2001and re-allocated to Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Limited (SNUD) in 2002 under a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) arrangement. He explained that Malabu, who felt aggrieved by the unilateral revocation of the contract, petitioned the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum and after a public hearing, the House recommended that the block be restored to the oil company. He added that Malabu also sued the government and SNUD claiming several declaratory reliefs including an order setting aside the re-allocation to SNUD and a restoration of the block to Malabu.
“The suit was struck out but on appeal, the parties entered into a settlement dated 30th November 2006, which were executed by my predecessor in office, Chief Bayo Ojo,” he added. He said a key term of the settlement was the restoration of Oil block 245 to Malabu by the government even as he maintained that pursuant to the Terms of Settlement, President Obasanjo in 2006 rescinded his earlier revocation and restored the Oil block 245 to Malabu but not before SNUD had already “expended huge resources of over $500m to de-risk the oil block under the existing arrangement with the government and had found oil in commercial quantities
Nation with additional report from National Mirror