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OPL 245: Canadian judge dismisses suit challenging Nigeria’s grounding of Etete’s jet

Malabu Oil Deal: Canadian judge dismisses suit challenging Nigeria’s grounding of Etete’s jet

A Canadian judge on Thursday dismissed an application seeking leave to appeal the judgement that confirmed the grounding of a luxury private jet purchased by a former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, with some of the alleged proceeds of the controversial $1.3 billion Malabu OPL245 oil deal.

The suit was filed before the court by Tibit Limited, an anonymously owned company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), claiming ownership of the jet.

The judge, Robert Mainville, noted that the seizure before judgment of the aircraft was authorised on May 30, at the request of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (“FRN”) on the principal ground that its true beneficial owner is Chief Dauzia (Daniel) Loya Etete (“Dan Etete”), a former minister of petroleum in Nigeria.

PREMIUM TIMES obtained fresh details of Thursday’s judgement through this newspaper’s London partner, Finance Uncovered.

The court noted that Mr Etete is alleged to have transferred valuable petroleum assets for his personal benefit in a series of fraudulent and corrupt transactions carried out in breach of his duties as a minister.

The Nigerian government further alleges that Mr Etete purchased the aircraft with his illicit gains from the Malabu Scheme and through various intermediaries.

He is also alleged to hold and operate the aircraft through the applicant, Tibit.

The Nigerian government asserts that Tibit serves as a front for Mr Etete with respect to the ownership and operation of the aircraft, the court said.

“Since the veracity of all these allegations has not been challenged, the appeal on the sole question of their insufficiency presents no reasonable chance of success,” the judge said.

He thereafter dismissed the application and denied leave to appeal the judgment of August 4, 2020, with legal costs.

Background

On August 7, PREMIUM TIMES reported how a Canadian judge confirmed the grounding of the luxury private jet purchased by Mr Etete.

The judge, Martin Castonguay, ruled that the plane, which landed in Montreal on May 29, must remain there. He also agreed with the claims put forward by the attorney to the Federal Republic of Nigeria over the grounding of the plane.

Earlier in June, PREMIUM TIMES reported how Nigeria tracked the luxury private jet.

Asset recovery lawyers acting for the Nigerian government swooped after the Bombardier 6000 jet, tail number M-MYNA, soon after it touched down at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport in Canada on the evening of May 29.

It had just flown from Dubai via Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland at the time.

Olabode Johnson, an attorney for the Nigerian government, told PREMIUM TIMES that an order was served on the jet’s owner, Tibit Ltd, which was expected to file court papers opposing the grounding.

BVI company records suggest Tibit’s sole director is Giuseppina Russa of J. Russa Consultants, a company based in Montreal. Ms Russa, who appears to have previously been an executive assistant of sales for Bombardier, is not thought to be Tibit’s beneficial owner.

Judgement Details

In his judgement Thursday, Judge Mainville noted that the seizure was challenged before Castonguay, J.S.C. on the sole basis of the insufficiency of the allegations.

“On the contrary, Castonguay, J.S.C. found the allegations in the affidavits to be amply sufficient,” he said.

“Though the Applicant raises various specious arguments with respect to various errors of law which Castonguay, J.S.C. is alleged to have committed in his judgment, in essence it seeks to have this Court review anew the allegations in the affidavits in order to reach a different conclusion. With respect, the allegations in the affidavits are detailed, clear, cogent and convincing on all aspects, including with respect to FRN’s reasonable fears that its claims may be jeopardized without the seizure.

“The affidavit of May 29, 2020 in support of the seizure before judgment was sworn by Babatunde Olabode Johnson (“Johnson”), a Nigerian lawyer mandated by the FRN to identify and manage claims on its behalf for the recovery of the proceeds of corruption by Nigerian politically exposed persons, including Etete. That affidavit incorporates another affidavit sworn by Johnson on May 20, 2020 in support of proceedings in the Virgin Islands which resulted in a Proprietary Freezing Injunction being issued on May 27, 2020 against the Applicant by the High Court of Justice of the Virgin Islands.

“These affidavits contain detailed information about Etete’s fraudulent and corrupt activities, the purchase of the aircraft by Etete and the circumstances in which the Applicant came to hold and operate the aircraft as a front for Etete. The affidavits are supported by numerous documents, including detailed references to European disputes and judgments pertaining to Etete’s corrupt activities and FBI reports concerning his money laundering activities.”

The judge noted that the affidavits also contain detailed information explaining how Mr Etete channelled money through various intermediaries in order to purchase the aircraft and how the applicant, Tibit Limited, eventually came to hold the aircraft as a front for Mr Etete.

“The affidavits also set out the reasons why the FRN reasonably fears that the recovery of the aircraft may be jeopardized without the seizure,” he noted, quoting extensively details of the applications filed by Nigerian lawyers.

The judge said the veracity of the allegations has not been challenged, and therefore dismissed the application filed by Tibit Limited challenging an earlier judgement delivered in favour of the Nigerian government.

Malabu Scandal

The Malabu OPL245 scandal is subject to a corruption trial in Italy, where Mr Etete is an accused.

Mr Etete and all other parties in the Milan trial have denied the charges against them.

The Nigerian authorities have also charged Mr Etete and several others linked to Malabu with money laundering in connection with illicit flow of funds from the OPL245 deal.

Mr Etete has, however, denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the allegations as “political propaganda”.

A total sum of $57m was alleged to have been paid for the jet in 2011. It has a range of up to 6,000 nautical miles and a luxurious interior for 17 passengers. It has a current market value of approximately $20m, according to dealers, and is registered with the Isle of Man’s aircraft registry.

Prosecutors allege that it is part of an epic spending spree Mr Etete allegedly embarked on after receiving over $800million from the OPL 245 deal.

75-year-old Mr Etete reportedly divides his time between Dubai and France.

Nigeria has , however, issued an arrest warrant for him, while authorities are said to be seeking his extradition.

SOURCE

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