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$113bn oil deal: UK police probe Shell, ENI

In what appears to be an opening of an old wound, British Police yesterday said it was investigating a money laundering allegation of $1.3 billion in relation to an oil field bought by Shell and ENI from Nigeria. When contacted on the latest UK probe of OPL 245, a Shell spokesman, Precious Okolobo, in a text message to Daily Sun said “No comment.”

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By ADEWALE SANYAOLU with Agency reports

In what appears to be an opening of an old wound, British Police yesterday said it was investigating a money laundering allegation of $1.3 billion in relation to an oil field bought by Shell and ENI from Nigeria.

Shell and Eni jointly bought Oil Prospecting License 245 from Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd., controlled by Dan Etete, a former oil minister, in 2011. Located in the deep offshore waters of the Gulf of Guinea, it is estimated to hold at least 9.2 billion barrels of crude reserves worth $1 trillion.

Also, a committee set up in the House of Representatives to look into the deal had last week, urged the Nigerian Government to revoke oil rights for which Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and Eni SpA (ENI) paid $1.3 billion, alleging that the acquisition process was “highly flawed.”

“Unfortunately, our national interest, knowingly or unknowingly, was ceded to the two oil majors,” the committee said. The sale violates a law to promote increased Nigerian ownership of oil assets by giving foreign companies 100 percent ownership as well as the country’s tax regulations, the report said, alleging a “lack of transparency and full disclosure” by Shell in acquiring the license, the committee said.

While Shell and ENI said they bought the block from the Nigerian government, for which they paid it $1.3 billion in 2011, the Federal Government said it was helping resolve an ownership dispute over the block between Shell and Malabu and immediately transferred $1.09 billion from the sale to Malabu, while government retained the remainder.

When contacted on the latest UK probe of OPL 245, a Shell spokesman, Precious Okolobo, in a text message to Daily Sun said “No comment.”

But a Shell spokesman told Reuters that it had purchased the block from the government, without making any payment to Malabu, adding that it acted transparently and in accordance with Nigerian law.

While Shell and Eni now hold 50 percent each of Malabu’s former oil field, the “indigenous policy authorises 40 percent maximum ownership to foreign oil companies,” the committee said. Taxes weren’t paid on the transaction on the basis that “no sale or transfer occurred,” yet both companies became beneficiaries of a new asset, according to the report.

Etete had awarded the block to Malabu during the military administration of General  Sani Abacha, whose son, Mohammed, and other close allies were shareholders in the company. The deal was later annulled after the death of Abacha by a new government that judged the award improper.

Meanwhile, in a UK court case brought by Emeka Obi against Malabu for unpaid fees relating to his help in brokering the Shell/ENI deal, the judge, Justice Elizabeth Gloster, concluded in her ruling last week that “From its incorporation and at all material times. Etete had a substantial beneficial interest in Malabu.”

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