The Nigerian government has taken over a private jet owned by ex-minister of petroleum, Dan Etete for his direct involvement in the widely touted $1.1 billion Malabu oil deal.
The $57 million jet was seized in Canada, according to report by Financial Uncovered, a London-based investigative journalism training and reporting project.
Babatunde Johnson, whose firm — Johnson & Johnson Solicitors, was charged by the Nigerian government in 2016 to recover assets from the OPL 245 deal, revealed that the government had been trailing the Bombardier 6000 jet, with tail number M-MYNA, since it landed in Montréal-Trudeau International Airport in Canada on May 29.
According to the website, the jet had just flown from Dubai via Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland, and it is not known whether any passengers were on board.
On Saturday, a court in the province of Quebec reportedly granted a seizure order for the aircraft, and was served on Tibit Ltd, the company which owns it.
Tibit Ltd, an anonymously owned company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, is said to have been given June 9 to oppose the court order.
The jet, Johnson said, had been grounded in Dubai for the past four years, where it had been closely monitored.
“Our investigators in Dubai then noticed that the jet, having been grounded in Dubai for so long, suddenly did some test flights and even went up to a cruising altitude for a short while. It seemed like they were testing whether they could fly somewhere,” he was quoted to have said.
“The jet then took off from Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai, mid-morning on Friday. We did not know the destination at that point.
“We now suspected that it was being flown to Canada for a major service, pending a possible sale.
“We had just a few hours to get a legal team in place on the ground there in Canada to file the injunction. It was 3am in Nigeria when I made a statement to the judge via video link.”
In January, a federal capital territory (FCT) high court in Gwagwalada issued a warrant of arrest against Etete following an ex-parte application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the deal.
In 2011, the federal government brokered a deal between Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, the original allotees of the enormously endowed but controversial OPL 245, and Shell/ENI who wanted to buy the oil block from the Nigerian company.
While Shell and ENI paid a signature bonus of $210 million to the federal government, they paid $1.1 billion to buy 100 percent interest in the oil block from Malabu.
The entire $1.3 billion was transferred to the account of the federal government in London, UK, from where Malabu was paid its $1.1 billion.
Subsequently, it was alleged that bribes were paid to officials of the government to facilitate the deal, which is considered unfavourable to Nigeria as the value of the oil block is estimated to be worth much more than what was paid for it.
Eni and Shell denied the bribery allegations.
Eni also said it has not made any profit from the deal because “Nigeria has declined to grant a mining licence’.
Etebe was minister of petroleum from 1995 to 1998.