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Malabu Scandal: How Shell used former British spies to gather intelligence while negotiating purchase of OPL 245


Nicholas Ibekwe and Idris Akinbajo: 5 March 2017

Multinational oil giant, Shell, set up an Intelligence network made up of some of Europe’s top spies which gathered information on some of the top actors involved in the infamous Malabu oil scam during the negotiations leading to payment of $1.1 billion for OPL 245, an investigation by UK-based Finance Uncovered has revealed.

The network made up of former members of UK’s MI6 spy agency, including Guy Colegate and John Copleston, gathered information which they circulated within Shell.

Mr. Copleston, a former British Intelligence attache, was hired as Shell’s “strategic investment adviser.” He and his partner, Mr. Colegate, designated Shell’s business adviser, performed tasks that fell into Shell’s business apparatus.

It was not clear whether Mr. Copleston worked directly with the Shell Intelligence Network Committee, SINC, a tightly knit group of ex-intelligence experts, set up by Ian McCredie, a respected spy, that had direct access to the company’s head office at The Hague.

Finance Uncovered said it tried to reach Mr. McCredie without success and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by him.

The investigation also revealed more intrigue surrounding the movement of $800 million out of the original $1.1 billion paid by Shell and Italian giant, Eni to Dan Etete, a former petroleum minister, after the Goodluck Jonathan administration used the Nigerian government as a conduit in the transfer of slush fund.

Within days of receiving the money from Shell and ENI, the Nigerian government instructed that the $1.1bn to be transferred to BSI Lugano, a Swiss bank. The Swiss account is believed to be owned by Dan Etete, a convicted felon, who had jointly set up Malabu oil, a fictitious company with the purpose of coveting OPL 245, considered one of Nigeria’s richest oil block with an estimated 9 billion barrels of crude.

British investigators are asking questions about how such huge transfer was allowed to sail through. UK money laundering law required banks to flag such transfers involving politically exposed persons, as Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). 

It was strongly suggested to Finance Uncovered that JP Morgan raised a SAR immediately it received the instruction for the transfer and wouldn’t have gone ahead with it without the approval of UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

Sources with knowledge of SARS told Finance Uncovered that UK authorities allowed the transfer to go through for one of three reasons: they saw no problem with it, they allowed it because the Nigerian government then under Goodluck Jonathan saw no corruption in the transfer and little could thus be done to obtain evidence for a freezing order, or they deliberately allowed the transfer so they could track it with the aim of obtaining intelligence.

The transfer immediately ran into difficulties soon after it was approved by JP Morgan. Swiss bank, BSI Lugano rejected the payment because of Mr. Etete’s criminal past.

JP Morgan also attempted to transfer the money via a Lebanese bank, which also refused to touch the money.

Two weeks later, the money was transferred into Malabu’s account in Bank PHB and Zenith bank.

Italian investigators claimed that kickback might have been paid to Mr. Jonathan. The former Nigerian leader has, however, denied he received any gratification from the deal.

Next month an Italian court will decided whether some of Shell and Eni’s executives should face criminal charges for their role in the deal.

In Nigeria, investigators have already filed corruption charges against Shell and Eni, as well as their officials allegedly involved in the scandal. Corruption charges have also been filed against Mohammed Adoke, who as Nigeria’s then Attorney General authorised the transfers to Mr. Etete’s account, as well as Mr. Etete.

Aliyu Abubakar, a man who received about $500 million of the money from Mr. Etete and who is believed to have acted as a middle man for several others including Mr. Jonathan, also faces corruption charges.

An application by the EFCC asking that OPL 245 return to the federal government was also granted by the court, although is being contested by Shell and Eni. The two oil firms have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the deal.


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