Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, who served as Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice from 2010 to 2015, has accused “political hirelings” of stage-managing a telephone conversation supposedly between him and an Italian journalist in which he was purported to have admitted knowing that the $1.3 billion OPL 245 deal was a “presidential scam”.
In his memoirs, “Burden of Service: The Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney-General”, to be released in the coming weeks, Adoke also said he advised former President Goodluck Jonathan to resolve the OPL 245 dispute to prevent Shell from getting a colossal arbitration award of $2 billion against Nigeria over the revocation of the oil block in 2001 by the Obasanjo Administration.
Meanwhile, Ednan Tofik ogly Agaev, former Russian ambassador who is also being tried over the OPL 245 affair, said in an Italian court last month that he was pressured, under interrogation by the FBI, to mention Adoke’s name as one of the recipients of the $400 million bribes allegedly paid to government officials in the deal. Agaev refused to adopt the FBI interview in court, insisting that he did not mean for it to be used against him.
One Ms Carlamaria Rumor, said to be of RAI Television in Italy, allegedly had a clandestine phone conversation with Adoke in November 2015 after he had left office. The recording was filed as an exhibit before an Italian court currently trying Shell and Agip-Eni over allegations of corruption in the controversial sale of the oil block to the multinationals in 2011.
Adoke said the “contrived” tape by Ms Rumor was part of an elaborate set-up by some of the “powerful toes” he stepped on when he was AGF. He said the stage-managed telephone conversation was the brain child of a “diminutive” human rights lawyer and another “diminutive Presidency figure”. According to him, the “diminutive duo” used their human rights front in a Lagos-based non-governmental organisation to stage the fake phone conversation in order to nail him by all means at the ongoing trial in Italy.
In the tell-all book, published by Clink Street Publishers in London and New York, Adoke wrote: “The truth, of course, is that this is a fake tape. Absolutely fake. If this is what the Italian prosecutors would be relying upon in their case against Shell and Eni, then they have nothing. As at 5 November 2015 when the alleged phone conversation was supposed to have taken place, I was already marked for persecution. As someone who worked at the top level in government for over five years, and was privileged to be a member of the National Security Council, I would be a complete moron not to know that telephone lines were bugged and conversations recorded. I knew very well that they were digging for dirt over the OPL 245 deal. I was fully aware of the clandestine plans to nail me at all costs. I knew very well that Italian prosecutors were fishing for evidence. How would I talk so recklessly on the phone to some Italian journalist I had never met in my life!”
He said an online report alleged that he tried to “cozy up” to the said Ms Rumor by offering her millions of dollars in return for a “relationship”.
“The appropriately named ‘Rumor’ is unknown to me and had never spoken to me. What will be the motive for asking for a ‘relationship’ with a person that I had never met, or spoken to, in exchange for information that was not exclusive to me but was already in the public space? Nigerians know that I am not a stakeholder in Malabu, Eni or Shell. I did not benefit from the proceeds of the sale of OPL 245 by Malabu. If indeed I was given $2.2 million bribe for the OPL 245 transaction as alleged by the EFCC, why would I be offering the same millions to the imaginary journalist? Offering millions of dollars just to be ‘close’ to someone I had not met? Could anything be more bizarre?” he wrote.
“To be sure, I first heard of the existence of the tape in a publication by Vrij Nederland on 26 October 2017 with the title: ‘Shell in Nigeria: Corrupt Constructions.’ When the highly libellous publication was drawn to my attention, I instructed my solicitors to write to the Dutch magazine. I also requested that they disclose the tape and the details of where the alleged interview took place, including relevant dates. Vrij Nederlanddeclined on the ground that they were protected sources. They responded to the lawyers that they would correct the libellous aspects of the story. This they attempted to do, in their online version, although not entirely to my satisfaction. If they were sure of their facts, they would not have attempted to correct the libellous aspects of their story. They would have claimed justification.
“The disclosure I requested was to afford the parties interested in the so-called tape recording an opportunity to subject it to forensic analysis to ascertain its authenticity. I was informed by sources familiar with the Italian proceedings that the contents of the recording ‘appear (on the face of it) wrong and out of question to such a point that many top officials believe the tape was manipulated.’ I was later informed that they were seeking technical expertise from phonic court experts to authenticate the voice.
“I also learnt that the number of the telephone that was supposed to have been used in the purported telephone interview was a Nigerian line. As at 5 November 2015 when the conversation reportedly took place, I was in the Netherlands. Furthermore, I had stopped using a Nigerian telephone line as far back as August 2015.”
Adoke left Nigeria at the end of President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure in May 2015 to study for an Advanced LLM programme at University of Leiden in the Netherlands, after which he did not return home. He alleged a plot to kill him, quoting high-level security sources. However, he has promised to return after attending to his health.
The highly lucrative OPL 245 had been originally allocated to Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd in 1998 by former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, but was revoked by the Obasanjo administration in 2001 and assigned to Shell. Malabu then sued the Federal Government to court over the revocation. Both parties reached an out-of-court settlement in 2006 under which it was agreed that OPL 245 should be returned to Malabu, fronted by Chief Dan Etete, former minister of petroleum resources, who had apparently used a pseudonym in the original corporate documents.
Shell, alleging that its asset had been expropriated by Nigeria, headed for the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an organ of the World Bank, demanding $2 billion in damages. In the meantime, the out-of-court settlement/Consent Judgment reached with Malabu by Obasanjo remained in limbo for four years until Dr Goodluck Jonathan became President in 2010.
Following a petition sent to him by Malabu, Jonathan implemented the Consent Judgment and returned OPL 245 to the company in 2011. In a tripartite deal brokered thereafter by the Federal Government, Shell and Agip-Eni agreed to pay $1.1 billion to Malabu to buy 100 per cent stake in OPL 245. They also paid the Signature Bonus of $210 million — the highest in Nigeria’s history — to the Federal Government. Both payments were made into Federal Government’s account at JP Morgan, London, from where Malabu’s share was transferred to two Nigerian bank accounts.
Italian investigators and prosecutors are alleging that Malabu’s share of the payments were bribes to Nigerian government officials, while anti-corruption campaigners are saying the entire $1.3 billion should have been paid to the Nigerian government — leaving Malabu, the original OPL 245 allottee, completely out of the picture.
Other highlights of Adoke’s memoirs are:
- The scandal around OPL 245 could have been avoided if Shell and Agip-Eni had paid $1.1 billion directly to Malabu’s accounts but trust had broken down between Shell and Malabu in the aftermath of the revocation of the oil block by Obasanjo and the Federal Government under Jonathan had to act as an intermediary to resolve the impasse
- The Jonathan Administration only agreed to midwife the settlement on the condition that Shell would withdraw its $2 billion arbitral proceedings against Nigeria at the ICSID, as advised by Adoke
- The money laundering case filed against Adoke by the EFCC was a manipulation of facts in a failed mortgage he took from a bank more than two clear years after the Malabu deal had been signed, sealed and delivered
- The said mortgage was paid directly by the bank to the property developer who also returned the money directly to the bank when the transaction failed but EFCC, working under the influence of the “diminutive duo” manipulated the facts to cook up a case of money laundering against Adoke
- EFCC cases against him have been rendered academic by a high court judgment in April 2018 which ruled that as the attorney-general, Adoke only carried out a “lawful presidential directive” over the OPL 245 Resolution Agreement and he cannot be held accountable because the president was constitutionally empowered to do so.