Business - Business & Economy - News - Oil & Gas - Special Focus - September 28, 2021

OPL245: How Adoke attempted to transfer $1.1bn from JP Morgan FGN account, despite being out of office

By Bassey Udo

A trough of new confidential information in court documents on the controversial OPL245 oil block deal have detailed how former Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, attempted to influence the illegal transfer of about $1,092,015,000 from Nigerian Government account at the London branch of JP Morgan Chase, despite being out of office as Minister in 2011.
 
The confidential information released on Tuesday by Lorenzo Bagnoli, a Milan Prosecution investigator, contained an internal email exchange between anti-money laundering officers at JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) bank records revealed how “Mr Adoke”, described in the email as “the former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General”, sought unsuccessfully to carry out the illegal transfer.

The Federal Government opened the account at the bank in 2011 in the wake of the controversy that surrounded the OPL245 oil block deal.

The account was meant to warehouse funds received by the Federal Government from oil multinationals, Shell and ENI as payments by the companies for the acquisition of the licence to the controversial OPL 245 oil block.

The transfer of the funds failed to go through after JP Morgan Chase officials refused to act on the instructions from Adoke.
The document showed the funds were ultimately transferred by the Nigerian government officials to Malabu Oil and Gas, the company previously awarded the licence.

Malabu belonged to the former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dan Etete, who awarded the oil block to himself when he was in office under the administration of late dictator, Sani Abacha.
Etete was later convicted for money laundering by an Italian court.

The JPMC email, dated June 24, 2011, was entered as defense evidence by ENI in its recent trial in Milan on charges of international corruption related to the OPL 245 deal.

Earlier, in March 2021, the Italian court in Milan acquitted top ENI officials, along with their Shell counterparts and other defendants, over corruption charges related to the oil deal.

The Nigerian government and the prosecutor in the case have since filed an appeal against the Milan court judgement.

The email, entitled “FGN summary of the facts”, was prompted by the failed attempt by Adoke to carry out the transfer of the $1,092,015,000 from the FGN account to another account at BSI bank in Switzerland held by Petrol Services Ltd, a company linked to the then Italy’s honorary consul in Nigeria and his Nigerian associates.
The transfer was rejected by BSI bank for regulatory ‘compliance’ reasons.

‘Adoke’ telephone call

An email by Simon Lloyd, JP Moegan Chase’s Executive Director of Anti-Money Laundering and Sanctions Compliance for Europe, Middle East and Africa gave details of the business relationship between he bank and the Nigerian government relating to the account at the bank.
In the email, Lloyd said log records showed the Nigerian government cabinet, in which Adoke served as Attorney General, was no more in power as of May 30, 2011, by virtue of the emergence of a new administration, which was not fully constituted until July 2, 2011.

Despite not being an official of the new administration between May 30 and July 2, Lloyd said JP Morgan Chase received a telephone call on June 20, 2011 “from Mr Adoke, the former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General” to convey instructions for the transfer of the money.

Lloyd said Adoke said he was calling to inform the bank that the Nigerian government would like to give JP Morgan Chase another instruction to move the funds to a separate account number in another bank.

Adoke was quoted as saying that in the absence of a substantive Minister of Finance then, the bank should expect the proposed instructions to come from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.

Lloyd said due to regulatory compliance reasons, JP Morgan Chase suspected something fishy and  declined to honour the instructions by “Mr Adoke”.

The bank insisted on receiving instructions from the new Minister of Finance as the authorised representative of the Nigerian government in the agreement.

A forged email?

However, Adoke has continued to deny that he made the said call, as he was “on holiday abroad as a private citizen” between May 29, 2011 and July 2, 2011.

He said he “did not have any dealings with official matters on behalf of the Government of the Federation of Nigeria” during the period in question.

However, Lloyd’s mail revealed that a another email signed by “Mohammed Bello Adoke” a day after the telephone call from a ‘Mr Adoke’ recorded in his log of correspondence.

The email obtained by the Milan Prosecutor through a Mutual Legal Assistance request to the United Kingdom may have put a lie to Adoke’s claim.

The email was reportedly sent from ‘[email protected]’ to Bayo Osolake, an employee at JP Morgan Chase, whom Adoke, in his official capacity as Nigeria’s Attorney General then, was in touch with when the Nigerian government account was to be opened.

The Resolution Agreements for the OPL 245 deal were attached to the email.

In an apparent reference to these attachments, Lloyd’s log showed that on June 21, 2011, JP Morgan Chase received “details of the settlement between all the parties” by “the Nigerian office of the Attorney General”, which, at the moment were “not in the public domain”.

Adoke vigorously denied sending the June 21 email, describing it as a forgery.

In a petition to the Nigerian Inspector General of Police, Adoke insisted he could not have issued the disputed email, because, apart being on holiday on the said date the email was issued, the email was signed by a certain ‘Mohammed Bello Adoke’, contrary to his usual style of signing off allhis correspondences “whether physical or electronic” with the suffix “SAN” (senior advocate of Nigeria).

He said at no time did he sign off “any document without using his rank in the legal profession”.

However, Lloyd’s mail showed other documentary evidence from the Milan trial revealed that “[email protected]” was the email address provided by Nigerian entrepreneur, Abubakar Aliyu when he opened an account with First Bank Nigeria for Novel Properties and Development Company Ltd. 

The company is alleged by the Milan Prosecutor to be one of several fronts through which bribes were disbursed from the OPL 245 deal to indicted public officials.

The Milan judges accepted that more than $500 million were disbursed through companies belonging to Aliyu to several individuals, including Adoke.

Judges allege Adoke benefitted

In their judgment, the judges in the Milan trial describe the “[email protected]” email as confirmation of “the relationship between Adoke and the companies belonging to Abubakar Aliyu, a relationship described as proof of “a mixture of economic interests that is serious circumstantial evidence of receipt of benefits from Malabu’s payments”.

Although Adoke has vigorously denied receiving any payments from the OPL 245 deal, the Milan court ruled as a fact that he “is the only one of the three indicted public officials identified as necessary parties to the corrupt agreement to have received a benefit directly deriving from funds from the OPL 245 operation”.

The Milan judges stated that Adoke received some $2 million from the deal from Aliyu Abubakar, an amount that was reportedly paid into Adoke’s account though numerous cash payments from Bureaux de Change. 

The judges said they were convinced the payment may have represented legal payments for a prior debt owed by Etete for legal services provided by the former Attorney General when in private practice. 

However, the judges’ views conflicted with statements by Adoke through his London solicitors, Gromyko Amedu, vigorously denying that their client “received a bribe of $2.2 million or any other sum on account of the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement”.

Also, Adoke has acknowledged that payments he received from Abubakar were in respect of repayment for a mortgage loan he (Adoke) was unable to service for a house he acquired from him. 

Quoted Adoke’s recently published autobiography titled Burden of Service, he stated: 

“I approached my bankers seeking a mortgage to buy a house. Alhaji Aliyu Abubakar, a builder and a developer whom I had been acquainted with for a long time, had earlier approached me with an offer to sell me a house for N500 million. The bank, the Chairman of whose Audit Committee I used to be, agreed that I should make an equity contribution of N200 million for a mortgage loan of N500 million that they would extend to me. The mortgage was approved and the payment made directly to the developer, not me. 

“I had hoped to raise the N200 million from the sale of a piece of land I owned in Abuja. However, it turned out that I could not secure a buyer . . .Meanwhile, interest was accumulating on the N300 million loan from the bank . . ..

“As I was ruminating over how to sort out the problem, the developer contacted me, offering to return the money paid to him by the bank . . . I suggested Abubakar should approach the bank and offer to pay back the loan since I was unable to sort it out. I asked him to retrieve the title documents which he gave to the bank on receipt of their N300 million.

“All I know beyond that conversation was that he paid off the loan to the bank and retrieved the title documents. I have no inkling of how he paid or how much he paid. I have no idea if he made the payments in dollars, neither do I know if a bureau de change was involved. I merely recall that both the developer and the MD of the bank confirmed to me that the loan had been repaid and that the title documents had been returned. I asked that the bank account be closed. That ended the matter as far as I was concerned.”

Abubakar and Adoke are currently being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on money laundering and corruption charges related to the OPL 245 deal. Both deny any wrongdoings.

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