Transparency campaigners, who asked the British authorities to look into the matter, assert that Shell and ENI used the Nigerian government as a go-between to obscure the fact that they were dealing with former oil minister Dan Etete, who also has a 2007 money-laundering conviction in France related to bribes he was alleged to have taken when in government.
In his capacity as oil minister, Etete awarded block OPL 245 in 1998 for a payment of just $2 million to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company in which he played a prominent role.
The critics claim that Shell and ENI
, which haven't been accused of any legal wrongdoing, wanted to distance themselves from Etete
reputation and his
involvement in the original award of the oil block to Malabu
spokesman said it had purchased the block from the government, making no payment to Malabu
, and that it acted transparently and in accordance with Nigerian law.
declined to comment but it told shareholders in May that the transaction was with the government, not Malabu
was not contactable for comment.
lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
and ENI say they bought the block from the Nigerian government, for which they paid it $1.3 billion in 2011, Nigeria says it was helping resolve an ownership dispute over the block between Shell
and immediately transferred $1.09 billion from the sale to Malabu
The government retained the remainder.
Etete had awarded the block to Malabu during the rule of military dictator Sani Abacha, whose son Mohammed and other close allies were shareholders in the company.
In a British court case brought by Emeka Obi against Malabu for unpaid fees relating to his help in brokering the Shell/ENI deal, the judge in that case, Justice Elizabeth Gloster, concluded in her ruling last week that "From its incorporation and at all material times . . . Etete had a substantial beneficial interest in Malabu."
Etete said he was only a consultant to the company, but he represented the company in the court case and in all negotiations with the oil majors, and he told the court he was the sole signatory to its accounts.
Documents relating to Obi's London case show that both Shell
met several times with Etete
to negotiate the deal.
An email from a Shell
employee to another middleman recounts how he
for face-to-face negotiations over "lots of iced champagne".
Obi said in court he
behalf on December 24, 2009, and introduced Etete
to an ENI
representative to discuss the deal.
Global Witness campaigner Tom Mayne said: "It's obvious from the meetings Shell
both had with Dan Etete
that they knew he was the person to speak to and then agreed that the deal be structured in such a way that it went through the government."
had been registered on April 24, 1998, five days before Etete
awarded it block OPL 245.
original shareholders had been Abacha's son and allies - and Etete
himself, according to the British judge in Obi's court case - the company secretary Rasky Gbinigie told the court he
had lost all the documents showing who owned it now.