Sources within the EFCC told SUNDAY PUNCH that the suspect, who was accused of perpetrating a $1.1bn fraud through his company, Malabu Oil & Gas Limited, had allegedly rendered himself incommunicado, making it difficult for the EFCC to serve him with court papers.
A senior detective at the EFCC said, “We have been trying to contact Etete, but from all indications, he seems to be on the run. Now that he has been charged in an Italian court, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation will coordinate with the Italian government.
“We have transferred the Malabu fraud case to the AGF and he will decide on the next line of action. It is doubtful that he is in Nigeria, but we will continue to look for him.
“Since he is under investigation in the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States, he will not be able to hide. All the relevant security agencies will join hands in finding him.”
It was learnt that Etete’s alleged accomplice, Abubakar Aliyu, who the Italian authorities said was a front for former President Goodluck Jonathan, would face extradition hearing soon.
Aliyu, who is the Chairman of A.A Group, was declared wanted by Italian authorities. It, however, remains unclear if Jonathan will also be invited for questioning in Italy.
The Malabu scam, described as one of the most fraudulent oil deals in the world, involved the payment of $1.1bn by oil giants, Shell and Eni, to the Federal Government accounts in 2011 for OPL 245, said to hold reserves of about 9.23 billion barrels of oil.
The OPL 245 was alleged to have been bought by Etete under questionable circumstances in 1998 when he was the minister of petroleum. Etete was said to have bought it for a fraction of its actual value. However, the oil licence was revoked by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
During the administration of Jonathan in 2011, the then AGF, Mohammed Adoke, brokered a deal for the sale of the same oil bloc, acting as a middleman between Shell and Eni on the one hand, and Etete’s company, Malabu, on the other hand.
Shell and Eni were said to have paid about $1.3bn for the OPL 245, which was paid into two escrow accounts owned by the Federal Government. However, Adoke was alleged to have transferred over $800m to Etete who, in turn, transferred over $500m to Aliyu, Jonathan’s alleged front.
Prosecutors in the UK had previously alleged that $523m of Shell and Eni’s payment went to alleged “fronts for former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria” as part of a deal that was effectively a “smash and grab” on Nigeria.
The UK authorities froze $85m in Etete’s bank account while $170m was frozen in its Switzerland account.
Justice Edis of the Southwark Crown Court in London had, last year, described the Malabu scam as questionable, accusing Jonathan of not doing enough to protect the interest of Nigeria.
According to the judge, evidence from the US authorities presented to the court “shows payments following circuitous routes, which totalled $523m, and arrived at Abubakar Aliyu, aka ‘Mr. Corruption’… Aliyu’s companies are allegedly fronts for President Goodluck Jonathan.”
Justice Edis said, “The suggestion from the wiretaps is that ‘Fortunato’ was implicated and I am told that this was a reference in code (not subtle) to the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. Aliyu is said to be associated with him and Aliyu received, in a way which was not transparent, $523m of the money paid for the OPL 245 licence in August 2011.”
Should Etete and others be found guilty of fraud in Italy, they risk spending 12 years in jail.
Oil giants, Shell and Eni, as well as some executives of the companies, are set to be arraigned in a Milan court.