EXCLUSIVE: Malabu Oil Deal – Why Court Discharged Ex-AGF Adoke, Six Others

The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has discharged a former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, of alleged fraudulent transaction in the controversial Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245, widely known as Malabu Oil deal.

Mr Adoke, who was justice minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, was charged alongside a businessman, Aliyu Abubakar; Rasky Gbinigie; Malabu Oil and Gas Limited; Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited; Shell Nigeria Extra Deep Limited and Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Limited over the Malabu oil scam.

They were arraigned in 2020 on a 40-count amended charge.

But, the judge, Abubakar Kutigi, in a ruling last Thursday, upheld the no-case submissions made by all the defendants in the 40-count amended charge.

A no-case submission is filed by a defendant at the end of the prosecution’s case, asking the court for an acquittal without having him or her present a defence. Such filing is premised on the presumption by the defendant that the prosecution, with all its witnesses and evidence tendered while making its case, failed to link him or her to the alleged crimes.

In his ruling, Mr Kutigi said the prosecuting agency, the EFCC, filed a poorly drafted charge against the defendants.

He said the EFCC failed to substantiate allegations of bribery and money laundering against the defendants, prompting the striking out of the case.

The judge further noted that the government failed to lead credible evidence linking Mr Adoke and his co-defendants to the alleged crime.

“I have carefully gone through the evidence produced by PW1 Mohammed Sani Abacha, Professor Peter Akpe…There is no evidence led by the prosecution to show how the defendants prevented the payment of tax by Malabu to the Nigerian government,” the judge said.

He cautioned the government to desist from instituting such frivolous charges in the future.

The judge said the allegation of illegal tax waivers granted to Shell and Eni remains unproven by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) or any authority.

On the issue of the alleged N300 million bribe said to have been given to Adoke by Aliyu Abubakar, the judge held that the EFCC did not provide the necessary evidence to substantiate it.

In January, the EFCC conceded that it lacked evidence of wrongdoing against Mr Adoke and other defendants in the suit.

The commission’s admission that it had no evidence to convict Mr Adoke and other defendants only corroborated the former minister’s argument that he was being persecuted by the former President Muhammadu Buhari-led government.

The concession came after the anti-graft agency called ten witnesses to prove its case of alleged fraud, bribery and corruption against the defendants in a high-profile trial that has two multinational oil companies as defendants.

The case had gone on for over three years at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Abuja. The prosecution closed its case on 19 October 2023 after calling ten witnesses.

The anti-graft agency dropped the bombshell of lacking sufficient evidence against key defendants in the case in a fresh court filing submitted to the trial court on 20 December 2023 in response to a “no-case submission” filed by the defendants.

The defendants, with the no-case submission filing, requested the court to terminate the trial midway due to the insufficient evidence they claimed the prosecution adduced to prove its case.

The case has been one of Nigeria’s few legal efforts at home to hold some individuals and corporations accountable in a decades-long saga the EFCC claimed denied the country of revenue from the lucrative oil block, OPL 245.

Malabu, a firm incorporated in Nigeria for the purpose of acquiring the OPL 245 asset, was first awarded the oil assets under controversial circumstances in 1998.

In a chain of convoluted back-and-forth events, the assets were later transferred to oil giants Shell and Eni following a 2011 agreement backed with payments of $1.1 billion, a chunk of which prosecutors alleged was passed to some Nigerian officials as bribes.

The EFCC had alleged that Nigeria was shortchanged in the agreement, leading to the transfer of the asset to Shell and Eni despite the vast revenue potential of the block.

The then administration of Mr Buhari, which came on board in 2015, touted the case as one of the worst instances of corruption under previous governments and vowed to bring perpetrators to justice. Mr Jonathan and his former aides denied wrongdoing, saying the agreement was packaged in the country’s best interest.


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