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‘EFCC failed to prove case’ — FCT court discharges, acquits Adoke in OPL 245 trial

Justice Abubakar Kutigi of the FCT high court has dismissed the charges of fraud, bribery and conspiracy filed against Mohammed Bello Adoke, former attorney-general of the federation, by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Ruling on the “no case” submission made by Adoke, Kutigi said the EFCC failed to prove its charges of fraud, bribery and money laundering and ruled that the defendant has no case to answer.

He discharged and acquitted the former minister on all counts.

The judge said the allegation of illegal tax waivers granted to Shell and Eni was not corroborated by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) or any authority.

On the alleged N300 million bribe said to have been given to Adoke by Aliyu Abubakar, the court ruled that the EFCC did not provide the necessary evidence to prove its case.

Nigeria has now lost virtually all the OPL 245 cases it filed or joined in Italy, the UK and Nigeria.

This is expected to finally bring litigation over the OPL 245 saga to a close.

The EFCC had earlier conceded that it did not have sufficient evidence to oppose the no case application by Adoke, who was listed as first defendant — although it insisted that Rasky Gbinigie had a case to answer over the alleged forgery of company documents to remove the name of Mohammed Abacha as a director of Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd.

THE CHARGES
The EFCC had charged Adoke before the FCT high court, Abuja, on January 15, 2020, along with Aliyu Abubakar, Gbinije of Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd, Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd, Shell Ultra Deep Nigeria Ltd, and Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Ltd (SNEPCo).

Adoke was accused of collecting a gratification of N300 million from Abubakar over the OPL 245 resolution.

He was accused of conspiring with other defendants to “commit the offence of public servant disobeying direction of law with intent to cause injury or to save person from punishment or property from forfeiture”.

The former AGF was accused of “knowingly disobeying direction of law” by allegedly “saving Shell Nigeria Ultra-Deep Limited, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited and Shell Nigeria Exploration Company Limited from charges of taxes”.

Adoke denied all allegations, maintaining that he was a victim of political victimisation by former president Muhammadu Buhari on behalf of the Abacha family who felt cheated in the OPL 245 transaction.

THE OPL 245 SAGA
On April 9, 1998, the federal military government awarded OPL 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, which was said to be owned mainly by Mohammed Abacha, son of former military ruler Sani Abacha, and Dan Etete, who was the petroleum minister at the time.

On July 2, 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo revoked Malabu’s licence and assigned the oil block to Shell — without a public bid. Malabu went to court and ownership was reverted to it in 2006 after it reached an out-of-court settlement with the federal government.

Shell fought back and commenced arbitration against Nigeria, but when President Goodluck Jonathan came to power in 2010 and implemented the consent judgment returning the oil block to Malabu, the controversy appeared to have been resolved with Shell and Eni agreeing to buy the oil block from the Nigerian company for $1.1 billion.

The oil companies also paid $210 million as signature bonus to the federal government of Nigeria.

But activists launched an international campaign alleging that the OPL 245 deal was fraudulent and that the proceeds were used to bribe government officials.

A STRING OF LOSSES
When Buhari came to office in 2015, his administration started a series of litigation against Royal Dutch Shell, Eni/Nigeria Agip Exploration (NAE), Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep (SNUD) Ltd, and Shell Nigeria Exploration Company (SNEPCO) over the allegations.

On May 22, 2020, a UK court declined jurisdiction in a case filed by Nigeria against Shell/SNUD and Eni asking for compensation in the sum of $1.1 billion.

On March 17, 2021, an Italian court acquitted Shell, Eni and all defendants of corruption charges in the $1.1 billion deal.

Also in June 2022, Nigeria lost its $1.7 billion claim against JP Morgan Bank over the transfers of proceeds from the sale of the oil block to Malabu’s directors.

Previously, the US Department of Justice investigated the transaction and announced in October 2019 that it was closing the case.

In April 2020, the US Securities and Exchange Commission also closed investigation into the deal after it could not prove fraud or corruption.

Meanwhile, Adoke recently said Ibrahim Magu, former acting chairman of the EFCC, has apologised to him over the criminal trials which he said Magu masterminded to help Nigeria win the cases in Italy and the UK to no avail.

In April 2018, a federal high court in Abuja had ruled that Adoke could not be held personally liable for carrying out lawful presidential directives.

There is yet another case against Adoke and Abubakar before Justice Inyang Ekwo of the federal high court sitting in Abuja.

Although there is no mention of the OPL 245 transaction in this particular trial, the same particulars were also charged by EFCC before Kutigi of the FCT high court alleging that Adoke accepted a N300 million bribe from the sale of the oil block to Shell and Eni by Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd in 2011.

Adoke also filed a no case submission but Ekwos is yet to deliver his ruling.

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