Prosecutors in Milan believe that $800m, the alleged proceeds of the controversial OPL 245 oil deal involving oil giants Shell and Eni and former Nigerian petroleum minister Dan Etete, was transferred to two Nigerian banks through J.P. Morgan in London.
Italian prosecutor Fabio de Pasquale, who has led a team investigating the scandalous oil deal for over two years, discovered that the transfer was made in two separate payments of $400m.
Over $400m was converted into cash while tens of millions was used to purchase a private jet and armored cars in the US, according to documents compiled by the prosecutors.
Mr. de Pasquale’s discovery came after carrying out raids of Eni’s offices in Italy and Shell’s headquarters in the Netherlands, which turned up thousands of documents and emails pertaining to the scandal. He subsequently requested that an Italian court charge ten individuals, five of whom are high-ranking Eni executives, implicated in the deal. The prosecutor also warned four Shell executives, including former MI6 employees Guy Colegate and John Copleston, that they could be charged to court.
According to Mr. de Pasquale, before working at Shell, Mr. Copleston served as the UK’s intelligence representative in Nigeria, while Mr. Colegate worked as a “business advisor” for the MI6 and was tasked with briefing the intelligence agency on the OPL 245 oil block deal.
It would be recalled that the oil-rich OPL 245 block in Nigeria was sold to Malabu Oil and Gas in 1998 by then petroleum minister Dan Etete, who, it was later revealed, owned a significant stake in the company.
In 2011, it was sold to Shell and Eni for $1.3b, which was paid to the Nigerian government so that no direct deal would be made with Malabu or Dan Etete, who was officially recognized as a criminal due to his past convictions of money laundering.
The Nigerian government then placed $1.1b in an account with J.P. Morgan in London and directed the bank to transfer the money to a Swiss bank account allegedly linked to Mr. Etete and Malabu. The transfer was rejected, however, due to Mr. Etete’s connection with the funds. A second attempt to transfer the sum to Mr. Etete was made through a Lebanese bank, which was also rejected.
J.P Morgan finally transferred $800m in two tranches to two separate Nigerian banks.
Italian prosecutors have accused Shell and Eni of knowing that the money paid to the Nigerian government would go to Dan Etete and Malabu oil, although the oil giants have denied these allegations.