Shell has conceded for the first time that its executives dealt with a convicted money launderer in negotiations to gain access to a major oil field in Nigeria.
The Anglo-Dutch multinational oil and gas giant made the admission following the publication of emails confirming that it negotiated with Nigeria’s former oil minister, Dan Etete, as part of a US$1.3bn deal in 2011 involving a Nigerian oil licence known as OPL245. Etete was later convicted of money laundering, although in a separate case.
In 1998, Etete allocated the OPL245 to Malabu Oil and Gas – a company which he controlled – for a “signature bonus” of just US$2m. Following years of legal wrangles, Shell and Italian oil group Eni agreed to buy OPL245 in 2011 for a total payment of US$1.3bn.
The money was paid to the Nigerian government but instead of going to the people of Nigeria, much of it was transferred to Malabu accounts. It now appears that top executives at Shell knew that much of the proceeds would end up in Etete’s hands.
Previously Shell had claimed that it only paid money to the Nigerian government, which took the form of a sum to settle the long-running legal dispute over the ownership of OPL 245. However, a spokesman for the group admitted that Shell had engaged with Malabu and Etete before signing the deal.
“Over the course of several years, Shell made repeated attempts to fully establish and understand Malabu’s ownership structure, including the exact role of Mr Etete in Malabu,” he said.
“Over time it became clear to us that Etete was involved in Malabu and that the only way to resolve the impasse through a negotiated settlement was to engage with Etete and Malabu, whether we liked it or not. This was consistent with the Federal Government of Nigeria’s (FGN) position.
“From the complex multi-party negotiations that followed, we knew the FGN would compensate Malabu to settle its claim on the block. We believe that the settlement was a fully legal transaction with the FGN,” he added.
The revelation came after two anti-corruption charities, Global Witness and Finance Uncovered, published emails confirming that Shell representatives were negotiating with Etete a year before the deal was signed.
One of the emails was copied to Shell’s chief executive officer (CEO) at that time, Peter Voser, showing knowledge of Etete’s involvement went right to board level.
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