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Nigeria seizes oil bloc amid Shell and Eni corruption probe

Nigeria is seizing one of Africa's richest oil blocs and could prosecute petroleum giants Shell and Eni over a corruption scandal, court documents show.

The country's economic and financial crimes commission said a federal high court has ceded control of Oil Prospecting Licence 245 to the federal government while it investigates and prosecutes suspects in the so-called "Malabu Oil scam".

The inquiry has drawn investigators from the United States, Italy, France, Switzerland and Holland.

The commission's petition said Dutch-British Shell and Italian Agip - now Eni - bought the bloc, knowing the transaction was "fraught with fraud" and that the 1.2 billion dollar (£950 million) payment to former petroleum minister Dan Etete and his cronies was a bribe.

The state oil company received only 210 million dollars (£166 million) from the deal.

The government is preparing further charges of "conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money-laundering" against Shell and Eni, the petition says.

Criminal charges have already been filed against both companies and several executives in an Italian court in Milan.

Simon Taylor, of the anti-corruption body Global Witness, said: "This is historic. Generations of Nigerians have been robbed of life-saving services while oil men have grown rich at their expense.

"Companies and their investors must understand they can no longer do back-door deals with corrupt officials without paying a hefty price."

Eni has not received notification of the court order, spokesman Roberto Carlo Albini said.

He added: "Eni denies any wrongdoing."

Shell Nigeria spokesman Bamidele Olugbenga Odugbesan made no comment.

The oil companies paid the 1.2 billion dollars into a Nigerian government escrow account at the London branch of JPMorgan Chase, with former justice minister Mohammed Bello Adoke authorising its distribution.

The commission has filed charges of fraud and money laundering against Etete, Adoke and businessman Aliyu Abubakar.

The petition says Nigeria's former military dictator General Sani Abacha and Etete used front men to form Malabu Oil and Gas, and illegally awarded themselves OPL 245.

After Gen Abacha's mysterious death in 1998, the company directors and shareholding was fraudulently altered to divest Abacha's son, Mohammed, it says.

The Malabu bloc has been seized by the government once before, by the civilian government of Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001. Malabu Oil sued and an out of court agreement returned the bloc to the company.


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