Nicholas Ibekwe and Idris Akinbajo

 


The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Friday moved against convicted felon and former minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, over the transfer of $1.1 billion made to his phoney company, Malabu Oil and Gas, for the sale of OPL 245 to Italian oil giant, Eni and Royal Dutch Shell by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.dan_etete

Mr. Etete was grilled Friday by detectives at the EFCC head office in Abuja.

Sources in the agency, who asked not to be named because they have no permission to speak on the matter, told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Etete, who was convicted for money laundering in France in 2005, was summoned by the anti-graft commission to answer questions regarding another curious huge fund transfer to Switzerland.

The money was seized by Swiss authorities which then requested the EFCC to help call in the former oil minister for questioning.

One of our sources said Mr. Etete honoured the EFCC’s invitation on Friday and was extensively grilled extensively by operatives over that separate controversial transfer to Switzerland, and then about the curious $1.1 billion payment made to Malabu by the Jonathan administration, which the anti-graft agency has been investigating for years.

That “corruption-tainted” transfer has attracted widespread international condemnation.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr. Etete arrived the EFCC headquarters in the Maitama District of Abuja at noon on Friday, and was only released on administrative bail at about 5.P.M after he made an undertaking to return for more questioning on Monday.

“He first answered questions about the new controversial Swiss transfer,” one of our sources said. “But when our men started asking him questions about the pending issue of the $1.1billion payment, he pleaded to be allowed to go gather all necessary documents concerning that transaction. So we committed him to returning here (EFCC office) on Monday.”

The spokesperson for the anti-graft agency, Wilson Uwujaren, could not be reached Friday night to comment for this story.

Background
The EFCC has been investigating the controversial $1.1billion payment for years, but apparently did not enjoy the cooperation of the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration which ordered the transfer even when it is clear that Malabu is a “company” that has serially violated Nigerian laws.

The Jonathan administration failed to approve or support an investigation even when the scandal triggered by the payment sparked a probe by the House of Representatives, and led to criminal cases in Italian and British courts.

That administration, in fact, actively participated in the dubious transfer of the $1.1 billion when former Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke and former Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama, offered the government’s platform to Malabu as a conduit for the round-tripping.

PREMIUM TIMES investigation at the time revealed that Mr Adoke, on August 16, 2011, hurriedly and furtively authorised the transfer of the money to Malabu, which has a fake address, from a Nigerian government account with JP Morgan International Bank, a day before the resumption of the former minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Malabu subsequently transferred the money to other phony companies with falsified addresses in what the EFCC described at the time as a “cloudy scene associated with fraudulent dealings”.

This newspaper further found that at the time the Federal Government transferred the huge sum to Malabu, the company was a criminal entity as it had not only registered using a fictitious character, it also maintained a fake address with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

The company created a fictional character, Kweku Amafegha, and made him one of its directors and shareholders at inception.

By that singular act, Mr. Etete and other promoters of Malabu violated section 563 of the companies and allied matters act.

Lawyers say by creating a fictitious character as director and using a fake address, Mr. Etete is liable to at least seven years in prison by virtue of sections 190 and 436 of the criminal code act.

“Section 190 and Section 436 (b) of the Criminal Code Act is applicable to the conduct of the promoter of Malabu, in that a false representation or declaration was made to induce the Corporate Affairs Commission to issue an incorporation certificate,” said Jiti Ogunye, a Lagos based lawyer.

Mr. Ogunye, who compared the Malabu case to that of companies used as fronts by Tafa Balogun, convicted former Inspector General of Police, urged the CAC to de-register Malabu.

“Owing to the false representation, the Corporate Affairs Commission can approach the Federal High Court under Section 563 of CAMA to seek the withdrawal and cancellation of the Certificate of Incorporation of Malabu. It should be recalled in this regard, that in the Tafa Balogun’s case, the Court ordered that the companies that were incorporated as the vehicles and facilitators of fraud be de-registered by the CAC,” the lawyer said.

In its registration papers with the CAC, Malabu gave its address as 35 Kingsway Road, Ikoyi. The company also used this address in several correspondences with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

When PREMIUM TIMES checked, it found that Malabu never occupied the premises.

Dredging International Services, a marine and waterway contractor, occupies the address.

“We’ve been here for 10 years. If they were here, they did not leave a forwarding address when they left. You can go and check on the internet,” the secretary of Dredging International Services, who did not want her name in print, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Another address, 43 Kingsway Road, Ikoyi, which Malabu used in a 2006 correspondence with the petroleum ministry, did also not exist. No. 41 Kingsway Road is a residential home. The next three buildings are a 15 storey service flats operated by Fieldco Limited; Southern Sun hotel; and Golden Gates restaurant in that order.

In what federal investigators described as “curious”, Malabu did not only claim fake addresses, it also transferred the money it got from the Nigerian Government to other equally dubious companies.

PREMIUM TIMES investigations found that Malabu transferred half of the money, $523 million, to companies co-owned by Abubakar Aliyu, a man who has been enmeshed in several controversial deals with government officials and agencies, and whom anti-corruption investigators described as “Mr. Corruption”.

A-Group Construction Company, a firm co-owned by Mr. Aliyu, which says its address is situated at Plot J165A Harold Shodipo Crescent, Ikeja G.R.A, Lagos, in CAC records, got N23.6billion ($157mn) from Malabu from the transfer.

A visit to the address revealed that it is a residential home, the initial occupants having relocated and not leaving behind a contact address.

“They moved to Abuja since 2010 and they didn’t drop any address with which they can be reached,” said a security man at the gate.

Another company, Imperial Union Limited, received N5.1billion ($34million).

The company’s address in its official papers with the CAC is Plot 14 Wempco Road, Ikeja, Lagos. The address is non-existent, according to checks by PREMIUM TIMES.

“I’ve been here for about three years and I’ve never heard of such a company,” said a security officer at a Guinness warehouse on Wempco Road.

The most intriguing of all the companies that part of the money was transferred to is Novel Properties and Development Company Limited. It got got N4.5billion ($30mn) from the transfers.

Novel Properties and Development Company Limited is co-owned by Mr. Aliyu, who is listed as one of the four directors of the company in CAC records. The company’s registered address is at 22 Capitol Road, Agege, Lagos.

PREMIUM TIMES findings show that two buildings stand at No. 22 Capitol Road, Agege – a large residential home owned by a man known as Alhaji Surusu and a small office run by Jide Ismail, a property consultant.

“My company has been here for more than 10 years and we have not received such money from anybody,” said a visibly alarmed Mr. Ismail.

“We’ve never heard of anything like Novel (Properties). There are only three of us in property development along this road,” he added.

While the claimed (false) address of Novel is on the Lagos mainland, further investigations uncovered another company bearing a similar name at 8/10 Broad Street, Western House, Marina, Lagos, on the Lagos Island.

At the Marina address, Souki-Novel Limited, the parent company of Novel Properties, along with some law firms, occupies the offices on the 15th floor.

The owners of Souki-Novel, however, say their company only bears a similar name with Mr. Aliyu’s.

“I’d feared something like this would happen when I discovered there were two of us bearing the same name,” said S.A Agidee, a partner at Souki-Novel.

“I complained to the CAC about this and they told me there was nothing wrong with it,” he added.

In order to clear the air on the retainership of its name, Mr. Agidee wrote to Mr. Aliyu’s Novel in an attempt to resolve the matter.

“We believed we should meet with our good selves to discuss the issue of similarity and possibly mistaken identities,” wrote Mr. Agidee, in the letter which he also copied to the CAC.

“We do hope you appreciate the full implication of this especially in relation to financial issues,” he added.

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