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A suitcase full of secrets about oil, sex and bribery by Shell

English translation of an article published by the Dutch news media giant 

A suitcase full of secrets about oil, sex and bribery by Shell

Shell in Nigeria A dubious game took place around Africa’s most coveted oil field. New, secret documents from a confiscated suitcase tell how Shell tried to avoid reputational damage.

Former oil minister Dan Etete (r) was the owner of the oil field, but also infected after a conviction for money laundering. Photo Gindl Barbara / AFP

What’s the news?

The Italian prosecutor suspects that the former chief executive of Shell in Nigeria has benefited from the controversial purchase by Shell of the mega-oil field OPL 245 off the Nigerian coast. This is Sunmonu Mutiu, who led the Nigerian division of the Anglo-Dutch oil company.

The possible self-enrichment is described in a request for legal assistance that the Italian prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale recently sent to the United States. De Pasquale leads the ongoing Italian investigation into possible bribery in Nigeria by Shell and the Italian oil company Eni.

According to De Pasquale, the Sunmonu Mutiu software company received five million dollars a few years after the OPL deal. The money is said to come from Nigerian former minister Dan Etete, owner of the oil field and main suspect in the bribery case where more than 1 billion euros in bribes would have been paid.

The agenda of the Nigerian consultant and mediator Emeka Obi is a disaster, this October 4, 2010. He got into a London taxi at half past seven in the morning for an appointment with his most important contact, the chairman of the Italian oil company Eni.

Obi is working on the deal of the century: the sale of a gigantic oil field off the Nigerian coast, which will personally bring him $ 200 million in commissions. If everything goes well at least, because it is difficult. Obi’s client is the highly flammable owner of the oil field, Nigerian former oil minister Dan Etete, who has been infected because of a conviction for money laundering. And there is a claim on the field from Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company. And Shell, everyone says, is the most aggressive club of all.

The negotiations are in a crucial phase, but Obi always gets text messages that distract him. At 6.14 am “Raphaele blond vhhot club” already reported, she misses him. At 3:01 pm, “El Milan” writes “hey, my chocolate.” “Beate” comes on line at 3.33 pm, she wants to give him “B-love”. At 5.33 p.m. he will be drumming ‘Sara italian kinkos london’ himself. “I don’t want her at the hotel,” he writes to his regular driver.

In between, text messages from his companion popped in, a Russian top diplomat who also mediates in the oil field. The boss of Eni will visit the president of Nigeria in person in three days, writes the Russian. Four minutes later, about Shell: “The Dutch claim they will try to convince their top guy to put the cash on the table for that time.”

It is going fast now, that is clear. But they have to keep Etete calm, because he is constantly changing his mind. And “Raphaele blond vhhot club” always wants an answer from Obi. 11.05 pm: “Am on skype now”.

Double standard

Just like binders full of personal notes, procedural documents and shopping lists, the text conversations come from a briefcase that Obi kept with a befriended banker in Geneva. The case was seized by chance in another investigation in 2016 and, after years of litigation, was opened at the end of last year by investigating officers in Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands.

NRC and the Swiss press now also have the documents from the briefcase. They provide a new, detailed insight into the dubious game that was played ten years ago around the most coveted oil field on the African continent. And in the double standard of the oil company Shell, which did everything in its power to buy the field from the corrupt Etete – without the top of the oil company ever being called to account.

This strategy seemed to succeed in the first place. In 2011, Eni and Shell purchased the rights to operate OPL 245 for $ 1.3 billion. It was a success that the Nigerian branch of Shell, plagued by environmental and human rights issues, yearned for. Just like Obi and his Russian colleague: they could finally add the tens of millions that Etete had promised them to their Caribbean bank accounts.

But in the years that followed, it became clear that a large part of that 1.3 billion ended up with Nigerian politicians and officials, including presumably also President Goodluck Jonathan. More than half of the sum was converted to cash, which went around in bags and suitcases, and millions went to the purchase of private American jets and armored cars. The huge amount makes this the largest corruption case in Dutch history.

The prosecutors in Italy and the Netherlands, who recently added the contents of the case to the criminal file, suspect that the documents may shed more light on Shell and Eni’s involvement in the corrupt oil deal. They have already come across indications that the oil companies foresaw that the money from OPL 245 would end up with politicians.

Safe distance

There are many documents in the briefcase that Obi, now 48 years old, collected for a court case that he conducted in 2012, when he threatened to miss the promised commission. From long overviews of meetings and conversations it becomes clear how certain Shell people can contact the convicted Etete, while in the meantime he is being shielded from the higher management.

For example, there is a confidential piece in the suitcase, in which Obi’s Russian companion describes a meeting in a Paris’ hotel from 2009. Present there: the owner of the oil field, “chief” Etete, and two Shell men – former agents of the British secret service MI6. “In the meantime, we get along well with each other,” one of the former agents wrote to his Shell boss afterwards. “Lunch, and lots of chilled champagne. Finally we negotiate from man to man. “

In the same report, the Russian explains the unwritten rules for Shell’s senior management. It is “completely forbidden” for Peter Voser, then chairman of the board, to meet someone convicted of money laundering, he explains. This requires mediators, such as him and Obi, and lower Shell staff, such as the MI6 men.

Obi accuses his boss of disturbed behavior, Etete accuses him of greed and cocaine use

The case also shows how infected the owner Etete is. The Chinese Addax, the Anglo-French Perenco, the Russian Rosneft, the Chinese state oil company CNPC, they are all interested in OPL 245. But they shrink “because of Etete’s reputation,” says the Russian. Eni Etete certainly does not want to receive at the Milan headquarters, however much they want it. They move to a hotel.

The Russian reputation also scares the reputation of Shell itself. As soon as the oil company becomes aware of interest from competitors in the Nigerian field, legal action is immediately threatened. Shell wants to have the field itself, despite Etete’s bad history.

In response, the oil company says: “We have sometimes sent letters to other interested parties to protect our legitimate interests in the field.”

Good cover

The deal seems to be heading in the right direction in the course of 2010, although Obi accuses his boss of psychologically disturbed behavior and Etete his intermediary for greed and cocaine use.

Eni, Shell and Etete signed a contract in April 2011, with a construction that would make the convicted owner out of sight. The oil companies pay 1.3 billion dollars to the Nigerian government, which forwards most of it to Etete. The contracts are signed at the office of the Minister of Justice of Nigeria.

The two-stage rocket is a good cover for Shell. In the following years, the company claims that this was a legitimate deal with the Nigerian government, and that it did not know exactly who owned the field. Until the FIOD investigation service seizes e-mails from Shell during a raid in 2016, which later leak out. Then the company must admit that it knew about Etete’s involvement.

Shell himself now says about this in a response: “We have tried for years to understand the precise structure of ownership of the company that claimed to own the oil field. We also examined the precise role of Mr Etete in this. His involvement gradually became clear to us. Successive Nigerian governments encouraged Shell to come into contact with Etete. Ultimately, the only way out of the impasse was a negotiated settlement with Etete, whether we liked it or not. ”

Nigeria does not want Shell and Eni to still exercise their rights and is now claiming $ 1.1 billion from them

But that settlement with Etete has totally failed due to all the fuss and subsequent judicial investigations. Nigeria does not want Shell and Eni to still exercise their rights and claims $ 1.1 billion from the oil companies instead. The former MI6 agents who drank champagne chilled with Etete are classified as suspects in Italy, as are various Shell and Eni managers, owner of Etete and the Russian mediator. The Nigerian Minister of Justice has been arrested by Interpol and the Italian prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale keeps up the pace in the ongoing court case in Milan. Just before the turn of the year, he added new documents to the criminal case, which shows that a software company from Shell’s senior manager in Nigeria would have received millions from Dan Etete at that time.

Things are not going well for Obi either, even though “Mummy UK 2” regularly calls on him to send a big text message to pray for prosperity and miracles. He will be sentenced to four years in prison in Milan in 2018. The $ 110 million commission he received after lengthy litigation for his mediation has been frozen in Switzerland.

And the intensive contact with “Raphaele blond vhhot club” that missed him so much, also fails. The last thing she sends him is on Christmas Eve 2010, shortly before the deal is closed: “I wish you a wonderful Christmas. hope you spend it with loving people. X”.

He answers her just after midnight. “I’m all alone.”

Correction (14-01-2020): In an earlier version of this article, Shell’s response was not expressed precisely enough. That has been adjusted.

Translated: Also read this report from the courtroom in Milan, where Shell took the floor: “By Nigerian standards this was a great oil deal”


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