Prosecutors in Italy say the payment amounted to a bribe for a role Mr Ojo played in the past.
Christopher Bayo Ojo, who between June 2005 and May 2007 was Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, received $10.026 million the infamous Malabu OPL 245 share-outs, a payment investigators said was a “bribe” for his earlier controversial decision to reassign the lucrative oil block to Dan Etete, Nigeria’s former petroleum minister.
Mr Ojo in 2006 handed control of the Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas, owned by Mr Etete, despite the Nigerian government having won the right to retain it, court papers obtained by PREMIUM TIMES say. The former attorney general, who also acted as a legal adviser and consultant to Mr Etete, was later handsomely rewarded.
Although the Malabu case has lasted years, the court documents provide clearer details on Mr Ojo’s role and how the Malabu largesse was shared.
The OPL 245, at the centre of far-reaching lawsuits in Europe and the U.S., was originally awarded by erstwhile military Head of State General Sani Abacha to Malabu, a briefcase firm hurriedly put together by Mr Etete, who would be later convicted of corruption on a separate matter. The firm was asked to pay a measly $20 million for the block which holds as much as 9 billion barrels of oil, vast enough to supply the entire Africa for seven years.
Mr Abacha, a notorious kleptocrat, ensured his son was a part-owner of Malabu. But the fraudulent deal was annulled following Abacha’s death, and Mr Etete went to court to challenge the decision.
Malabu’s licence was reinstated in November 2006 by Mr Ojo after entering an out-of-court agreement with the firm, requiring Malabu to pay the signing bonus of $210 million in the 12 months from the re-registration of the licence.
“It is recalled that Christopher Adebayo OJO was a legal consultant of ETETE during the last stages of the negotiation, but, above all, he is the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, who, in 2006, reassigned OPL 245 to Malabu, waiving the appeal in the lawsuit filed by Malabu against the Nigerian government against the revocation of the licence and its assignment through a tender process to Shell,” the court paper says.
“Such a waiver, and the resulting settlement with Malabu, took place in an unexpected and unreasonable way, in spite of the fact that the Nigerian government had won the case in the court of first instance. The reassignment of the licence in 2006 to Malabu, subsequent to the transaction desired by Bayo OJO, is therefore the essential prerequisite of all events and subsequent acts, up to the Settlement Agreements on 29 April 2011 and to the actual collection by Malabu of over $800 million in the performance of those agreements.”
The final “settlement agreement” was later implemented by President Goodluck Jonathan and his cabinet members, namely Mohammed Adoke (attorney general), Diezani Alison-Madueke( petroleum minister) and Aliyu Gusau (National Security Adviser).
It involved Shell and Eni taking over the contentious block after paying $1.2 billion to Malabu through the Jonathan government which claimed it acted as a mediator.
Top government officials received payments from the huge fee, and Mr Etete “paid the former Nigerian Minister of Justice, as well as his latest legal counsel, Bayo Ojo, for the favour that he did for him in 2006 by reassigning to him, at no cost, the OPL 245 prospecting licence,” from the funds of $411,233,907, transferred from Malabu to Rocky Top Resources Ltd,” the document states.
Mr Etete would later acknowledge owning Rocky Top Resources Limited and that the money transferred into the current account of the company were proceeds from the re-allocation of OPL 245.
“The bribe of 10 million dollars to Bayo Ojo was not only the payment of a fee for generic legal advisory services supplied in 2011 but also includes remuneration for a “favour” done for Etete five years earlier and, therefore, represents the execution of the original corruptive pact stipulated by ETETE with the minister of justice in office at that time,” the document says.
Vincenzo Armanna, a former Eni manager, received $1.2 million in his current account domiciled at the Banca Popolare di Bergamo on May 8, 2012 at the behest of Mr Ojo from Oceanic Bank International (Nigeria) Limited with the description: “Giuseppe Armanna Inheritance”, it also says.
The court papers said Mr Ojo handled some other suspicious assignments, citing one “mystery” in which the Nigerian lawyer redeemed Guiseppe Armana’s investment in Kenya more than a decade after it was made without the slightest documentary proof.
“The fact that Bayo Ojo provided Nigerian investigators with an explanation similar to that of Armanna does not affect, in the opinion of this court, the Plaintiff’s reconstruction, because it’s unthinkable that Bayo Ojo would confess to the authorities of his Country his active role in a corruption matter of such immense size,” it said.
Mr Ojo declined to comment on the issues raised in the court documents when PREMIUM TIMES contacted him on Monday. The former attorney general of the federation said he could not react to an issue that he is not aware of