A leak of private property data in Dubai has shed new light on how the proceeds of a notorious $1.3 billion oil deal involving Shell may have been spent on luxury villas in the secretive Arab Emirate.
PREMIUM TIMES’ UK partner, Finance Uncovered, has discovered the name of former Nigerian oil minister Daniel Etete among thousands of property and residency records compiled by assorted real estate professionals in Dubai. The leak was obtained by the U.S. non-profit C4ADS, passed to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and seen by Finance Uncovered.
Mr Etete was the suspected mastermind behind a 2011 deal known as OPL245 that is alleged to be one of the most corrupt in the history of the oil industry.
Mr Etete, as well as oil giants Shell and Eni of Italy, and a number of their former executives, are due to stand trial on various corruption charges relating to OPL245 in Italy on June 20.
It is said to be one of the biggest trials in corporate history.
All the accused deny wrongdoing.
Investigators have spent seven years trying to trace where hundreds of millions of dollars have been stashed.
But in a new twist, Finance Uncovered has found evidence suggesting that Mr Etete may have bought two luxury properties in Dubai after he received more than $800 million from the deal he made with Shell and Eni.
One property is in the exclusive Emirates Hills, known as the “Beverly Hills of Dubai” – the postcode of choice for a host of notorious former presidents, including Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace.
The link to OPL245 was established by an email address found in the property records and that was also in other files seen by Finance Uncovered in a separate investigation into Etete last year.
A business associate of Mr Etete in Dubai also told Finance Uncovered that the former minister had brought millions into the Emirate via an informal money changer.
Mr Etete did not respond to our questions about his property purchases.
His lawyer told Bloomberg last month there was no proof the deal had corrupted Nigerian officials. Mr Etete has also defended himself at length in the Nigerian media.
Barnaby Pace, an anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness, said: “We know that the criminal and corrupt set up bolt-holes around the world in which to stash their dirty cash, with Dubai being a favoured spot for many.
“New agreements between Nigeria and the UAE to work together to track criminal suspects and their assets go into effect this month. This should be a test case to show whether Nigerian and UAE authorities can act quickly to ensure corruptly obtained assets are recovered for the benefit of the Nigerian people.”
The OPL245 Backstory
As oil minister in the last weeks of the corrupt Abacha military regime in 1998, Mr Etete awarded the prospecting rights to the huge OPL 245 block to Malabu Oil and Gas, a shell company in which he secretly held a major stake.
After years of acrimonious legal wrangling over its ownership, Shell and ENI jointly agreed to buy the block from Malabu for $1.3 billion in April 2011.
The deal was structured so that Shell and ENI would pay the money to the Nigerian government which would then pay $1.1 billion to Malabu.
A long-running investigation by an Italian prosecutor unearthed sufficient evidence for a Milanese judge last year to order the criminal trial of several senior former ENI and Shell executives, plus a host of intermediaries, including former MI6 spies who had been working for Shell, a former Russian diplomat and Etete himself.
The Italian prosecutor alleges the deal was corrupt and that various oilmen, fixers and Nigerian government ministers received tens of millions of dollars in personal kickbacks.
Of the $1.1 billion, Malabu initially received $801.5 million, paid out by the London branch of JP Morgan Chase Bank to two Nigerian bank accounts in August 2011.
Documents seen by Finance Uncovered show that a month later Malabu transferred $336.5 million of this to a Nigerian bank account of a company called Rocky Top Resources Limited.
Rocky Top Resources Ltd is a Nigerian-incorporated company.
These documents also show that Chief D L Etete – an alias of the former minister – issued regular written payment instructions to the bank.