After many years of legal fireworks, the United Kingdom has given the final clearance for Nigeria to draw down a whopping $85 million seized from entities embroiled in the controversial Malabu Oil scam.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who confirmed the development to Vanguard last night in Abuja, said the money was not yet in the coffers of Nigeria but would soon be repatriated. Malami said: “Final judicial order for the remittance of the money to the Federal Government of Nigeria was granted by the UK’s court on Friday and the money is now due for remittance any moment from now.” It will be recalled that a British judge ruled on Friday that the amount, being part of the Malabu oil deal loot, should be returned to the federal government.
The amount forms part of the $1.1 billion sales of the rich offshore oil block, OPL245, that has been enmeshed in corruption allegations and prolonged legal tussle between the federal government and local and external entities with vested interests in the oil block.
The sale, which was brokered by the then government of Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, supposedly resolved a long-running contest for the block between oil giant, Shell, and shelf company Malabu, beneficially owned by former oil minister Dan Etete. Mr. Etete effectively awarded the oil block to himself when he was oil minister in 1998, but only walked away with the money for it 13 years later, after Shell and Italian oil company, ENI, paid the federal government for the block.
The government paid $801.5 million to Malabu, but not before $215 million was restrained by the UK Commercial Court after an Etete associate brought a case claiming their share. The $85 million is what remains in the UK courts funds office after years of legal wrangling. Counsel for the Federal Government, Faisal Osman, argued alone before the judge, Justice Cockerill, on Friday after Malabu failed to attend the hearing.
Osman told the court that Malabu had not responded to legal correspondence for more than a year after another British judge had dismissed Malabu’s earlier legal bid to unlock the $85 million. After the UK Crown Prosecution Service gave its consent to release the funds to the Federal Government last month, the judge agreed that she was “entirely satisfied” to grant the order. “The money in question is the money of the Nigerian people,” Mrs. Cockerill concluded.
The Federal Government’s legal arguments were prepared by UK law firm, Verdant Solicitors, and Lagos law firm, Johnson and Johnson. Nigeria’s Solicitor-General, Dayo Apata, attended the court hearing, saying “we are very happy about this ruling. It has been a long road but there is light at the end of tunnel.”