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PUNCH: $1.1bn Malabu oil scandal: Prosecutors want Nigerian ‘super witness’ to testify in Italy

Regarded as one of the biggest corporate corruption scandals in history, the Malabu oil scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1bn by oil giants Shell and Eni through the Federal Government to accounts controlled by a former Minister of Petroleum, Mr Dan Etete. Shell and Eni were said to have given the bribes in a bid for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks. The oil block’s reserves were estimated to be 9.23 billion barrels of crude oil.

Jesusegun Alagbe and Alexander Okere: Published Dec 21, 2019

Italian prosecutors have been asked to produce a Nigerian ‘super witness’ who is a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Isaac Eke, in the ongoing probe of the $1.1bn Malabu oil scandal.

The Palace of Justice in Milan, Italy, during the week told prosecutors to make the key witness appear before it by January 29, 2020, to testify in the trial.

Turning down recorded testimony of the witness and all forms of examination via video conferencing, the court said unlike before when it allowed Nigerian witnesses testify via video conferencing, the ex-police chief must be physically present to testify at the ultimatum.

According to a report on Friday by an online Italian newspaper, Valori.it, the prosecution witness-cum-defendant, who is also a former Eni manager – Vincenzo Armanna – claimed that Eke told him that in 2011, while on police duty at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, he saw the movement of two suitcases containing bribe money in dollars within the presidential villa for the OPL 245.

The report on Valori.it entitled, ‘OPL 245 process, the photo finish race for the super witness, was translated by one of our correspondents from Italian to English via Google Translate.

Regarded as one of the biggest corporate corruption scandals in history, the Malabu oil scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1bn by oil giants Shell and Eni through the Federal Government to accounts controlled by a former Minister of Petroleum, Mr Dan Etete.

Shell and Eni were said to have given the bribes in a bid for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks. The oil block’s reserves were estimated to be 9.23 billion barrels of crude oil.

Since the trial of the deal commenced, some of the oil giants’ most senior executives have been in the dock, after being accused of massive corruption.

In the continuation of the trial held at the Palace of Justice in Milan during the week, the court’s panel of judges, led by Marco Tremolada, was angry that Eke was not present at the court to testify in the case.

The court said the prosecutors would now have until January 29 to produce the key witness (Eke).

Valori.it reported, “Surprisingly, the super Nigerian policeman, Isaac Eke, in an odour of intelligence and admitted in extremis by the court at the request of the Milan Public Prosecutor, did not appear to testify, giving generic commitments to which he could not renounce.

“All communicated in an e-mail sent to the defence attorney of Vincenzo Armanna – a former Eni manager – also with possible ties to the services (our own) and great accuser of the Six-legged Dog (Eni).”

Tremolada was reportedly angry that Eke was absent, but thereafter allowed the prosecutor, Fabio De Pasquale, to formally quote the witness by means of rogatory.

According to the United States Attorneys’ Manual, rogatory (also known as letters rogatory or letters of request) is a formal request from a court to a foreign court for some type of judicial assistance.

The most common remedies sought by letters rogatory are service of process and taking of evidence.

Another reason why a court may require assistance from a foreign court is to obtain evidence from a witness. This evidence may be to answer questions relevant to the determination of an issue of fact, or for disclosure of documents.

Valori.it reported that the first citation read during the week had materialised only with an e-mail in response to Eke’s offer to testify in court. The ex-AIG’s offer was reportedly backed with his curriculum vitae and identification data.

The report stated, “But Tremolada insisted on the fact that this time (round), video-conference will not be admitted, unlike what happened to other texts heard by Nigeria during the trial.

“[This is] an additional difficulty for the prosecutor, who will have time until January 29 to bring the super witness to Milan.”

Quoting Armanna as saying Eke told him he had seen the transit of bribe for the OPL 245 in the presidential villa, Valori.it stated, “In particular, he (Eke) would tell him (Armanna) about the two suitcases with $50m that would have been ‘diverted’ to the villa of Eni’s Roberto  Casula, then number three of the company.”

Casula, who later became head of the upstream at Eni, was said to have been moved to another post in 2018 following further accusations against him as part of an investigation into some of Eni’s oil licences in Congo Brazzaville.

Meanwhile, at the hearing during the week, the prosecutor, De Pasquale, reportedly did not stop at producing Eke as a ‘super witness.’

He also said he would soon present new evidence from the interrogation of a person involved in a “fraudulent” parallel investigation into an investigation in Syracuse (Italy) by Eni’s former head of law and some external lawyers of the company to ditch the proceeding on OPL 245 in Milan.

Who’s Eke?

A graduate of Political Science from the University of Benin, Edo State, Eke served as an area commander in Benin City, Edo State, and a commissioner of police in Ondo State.

He was in charge of Training, Force Headquarters, Abuja, and served with the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

In July 2016, he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector-General of Police by the Police Service Commission.

During the build-up to the governorship election in Edo State in 2016, Eke was deployed as the AIG in charge of Zone 5, Benin City, following the redeployment of his predecessor, Kolawole Shodipo, to the Force headquarters.

Eke, however, retired from service in the same year. The event held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City.

The then Edo State governor and National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, hailed the ex-AIG for being a promoter of peace and safety.

Oshiomhole also described Eke as an officer who served “selflessly” throughout his stay in the state.

Meanwhile, the retired AIG could not be reached for comments on Friday as calls put across his mobile line indicated that it was switched off.

He had yet to respond to a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report on Friday night.

However, a police source said the former police officer might be out of the country.

“I think he is out of the country. His (mobile) lines are not going,” the source said.

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