Former Minister of Petroleum Dan Etete laundered hundreds of millions of dollars he extorted from oil companies in a complex web that took investigators years to untangle.
Mr. Etete began his extensive criminal enterprise shortly after the now deceased military dictator, General Sani Abacha, appointed him Minister of Petroleum on March 20, 1995. His activities as minister came into focus when President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office and filed a complaint with international financial review agencies asking for help in tracing over $386 million that disappeared from the Central Bank of Nigeria from 1994 to 1998. The complaint also noted that another $800 million dollars was missing, with members of the Abacha family strongly believed to have profited from these funds.
In the course of the investigation, millions of dollars in Switzerland, France, Gibraltar and several other tax havens where the world’s biggest money launderers stash their loot were traced to Dan Etete. The investigators first discovered that ADDAX, a company based in the British Virgin Islands and managed by Richard Grainer-Deferre, was used to funnel 1.9 million British pounds sterling and $385 million dollars into bank accounts owned by General Abacha and members of his family. Further investigation linked Mr. Grainer-Deferre to accounts opened in Switzerland for Dan Etete and his brother, Bukazi Etete. Using “forensic” tools for detecting criminal movement of cash, investigators also uncovered other accounts that Richard Grainer-Deferre opened for Mr. Etete using the alias of Omoni Amafega for the former Petroleum minister.
Mr. Grainer-Deferre had founded ADDAX for the purpose of doing business with oil-producing countries. ADDAX then established numerous offshore subsidiaries in countries that had light tax burdens. Its representative in Nigeria, Mr. Jean-Pierre Decker, told investigators that when Dan Etete assumed office as the minister of petroleum, oil companies doing business in Nigeria were expected to give money to Mr. Etete in order for their business to thrive. “It was a generalized racket from which it was impossible to obtain a concession if this type of commission was not paid,” he said. “The company that paid the most commissions to the decision maker could find itself receiving the contract even though its offer was not objectively the best.”
Mr. Richard Granier-Deferre said his company paid Dan Etete over $10 million in hidden commissions to obtain petroleum contracts. “This was a general practice,” he stated.
Mr. Vermeulen, the director-general of ELF TOTAL FINA, Mr. Gavalda, director of ELF Africa, and Mr. Viaud, the director-general of ELF Nigeria all testified that their company paid $20 million to Dan Etete’s account in Credit Agricole Indosuez in Gibraltar in May of 1998 to renew four operating licenses.
“This payment of $20 million dollars was imposed on us by the Petroleum Minister,” said Mr. Vermeulen.
Mr. Gavalda said that ELF could not get around Mr. Etete’s blackmail schemes. “It was necessary to pay because our situation was becoming untenable,” he said.
In his testimony, Mr. Viaud said that Mr. Etete personally passed on the details of the bank account where the corporate bribes were paid into.
Mr. Grainer-Deferre used his contacts in banks in Geneva and Paris to open accounts for Dan Etete and the Abacha family. Also, when given instructions by Mr. Etete, he moved funds from one bank to another for the former minister. The primary route was first to Bukasi Etete, Dan Etete’s brother’s account in Switzerland. From there the money was moved to Omoni Amafegha’s account, which was Dan Etete’s alias.
Through these accounts, Mr. Grainer-Deferre managed oil companies’ bribe money for Dan Etete. With a power of attorney granted him, Mr. Grainer-Deferre moved money around for Dan Etete. He used part of the slush funds to buy real estate for Mr. Etete in France. He also purchased high-priced art and antiquities for the grasping former minister. As investigators began to close in on Dan Etete’s money in Switzerland and France, the former minister ordered his accomplice to move the money to accounts in Lebanon, Monaco and Gibraltar.When a particular bank refused to receive further funds from Nigeria in this manner, Mr. Grainer-Deferre approached another bank manager friend of his and opened another account. He used this maneuver when Banque Constant was facing international scrutiny triggered by money transfers for Dan Etete. Mr. Grainer-Deferre contacted a manager he knew at Banque Hoffman where he opened another account for his money-guzzling Nigerian principal.
In August 29, 1997, Banque Hoffman decided not to keep Dan Etete’s money any longer. Mr. Richard Grainer-Deferre contacted Mr. Bovay, a manager at Credit Agricole Indosuez Geneva, and opened an account in the name of Moncaster Associates of British Virgin Island with Omoni Amafegba (a mask for Mr. Dan Etete) as the sole beneficiary.
The money laundering circuit involved institutions or personalities from Nigeria, Switzerland, Gibraltar and Lebanon. Some of the origins of the funds transferred to these accounts could not be traced by investigators.
Between February 4, 1999 and May 30, 2001, over 96 withdrawal transactions were carried out in France by Dan Etete himself or Eric Ruellan or Marc Daubrey who worked for him. More than 109 million francs was taken out in 40 transactions. Marc Daubrey told investigators that he cashed checks needed by Dan Etete when he bought a town house in Neuilly sur Seiene and offices in Paris. Mr. Daubrey also used his personal account to transfer $25,000 when Dan Etete wanted to buy his Mercedes.
On March 15, 2000, Dan Etete bought a house in Boulay Morin, Eure, for 7.5 million francs and resold it on December 6, 2002 for 657,345 Euros. Dan Etete also purchased 6.3 million francs worth of furniture for his office at 11 Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg. He once owned two boats, the 14.33 meter twin-motor speedboat called the “N’Gozic” and the 27.40 meter-long “Spirit of Ashanti,” built in 1998.
On November 27, 2001, the Tracfin money laundering prevention department identified over 40 million francs in funding transferred to Mr. Etete between July 1999 and May 2000 by Banque de Gastion Privee Indosuez (BGPI), a subsidiary of Credit Agricole Indosuez.
On July 4, 2002, investigators searched the head office of Dan Etete’s private liability company, SARL on 11 Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, Paris. Several documents were seized. Some of the documents showed that Dan Etete, alias Mr. Omoni Amafegha, owned real estate holdings worth over 50 million francs.
In his defense, Dan Etete claimed that payments made to him were well-established practice in the petroleum sector in Nigeria called “sponsor’s fee.” He said such payments “existed for decades before I took over my position as Minister of Petroleum Resources… a practice that continued after I ceased to be Minister of Petroleum Resources and which continues today.”
Mr. Etete told investigators that he was one of the largest ship-owners in Nigeria. He stated that corruption accusations against him were initiated by Olusegun Obasanjo in an effort to deprive him of the oil block number 245 which Gen. Abacha awarded to his Malabu Oil and Gas LTD.
Nigeria was a civil party in the French case against Dan Etete. Nigeria was represented by Marc Bensimhon and Amale Kenbib.
In a judgment delivered on September 17, 2007, the court in Paris found Dan Etete guilty of aggravated money laundering, defined as the habitual assistance with a transaction for investment, concealment or conversion of the proceeds of a crime. The court sentenced Dan Etete to 3 years imprisonment and ordered him to pay a fine of 300,000 Euros. The court also ordered Dan Etete to pay to the Federal Government of Nigeria the sum of 150,000 Euros as “smart” money and an additional 20,000 Euros under Article 475-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
“It is evident that Dan Etete’s act, consisting of investing improper funds in various countries… has created, by its nature and its impact, an actual loss in the form of a non-pecuniary loss suffered by the Nigerian State,” the judgment said.
In March 2009, Dan Etete’s appeal of the judgment was overruled. A French appeal court reaffirmed Dan Etete’s money laundering conviction and fined him a sum of $10.5 million.
Ironically, four years after Mr. Etete’s conviction, President Goodluck Jonathan discreetly approved the transfer of $1.1 billion (N155 billion naira) to the London account of Dan Etete’s company, Malabu Oil. The president took the decision on April 29, 2011, a day before Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala assumed office as the minister of finance. The money came from funds paid to the Federal Government by two multinational companies, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited and Shell Nigeria as part of the settlement of the Malabu oil block case between the Federal Government, Malabu and the two multinational oil companies.
Investigation by SaharaReporters showed that, as soon as the $1.1 billion was posted to Malabu Oil and Gas London account, it was distributed to the accounts of business associates and cronies of government officials. One of the beneficiaries was a man named Abubakar Aliyu, an individual with close links to President Jonathan.
Mr. Aliyu received $532 (N81 billion) through various companies he owned. Aliyu, notorious for shady deals, has long established business ties to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the convicted former governor of Bayelsa state who was recently pardoned by President Jonathan. Mr. Aliyu was also at the center of a NITEL land deal. The shady businessman had bought a parcel of land from the Nigerian government for N1 billion and sold the same land to the Central Bank of Nigeria for N21 billion. Aliyu, long linked with late President Musa Yar’Adua and President Jonathan, is known in Abuja circles as a deal broker who has perfected the art of sharing the loot with government officials who help facilitate his numerous astonishing deals.
The EFCC also investigated the $1.1 billion dollar Malabu Oil deal. The anti-corruption agency called the deal fraudulent. The EFCC then concluded that the funds were transferred to accounts owned by “real and artificial persons” without any clear validation of the job they did to deserve huge payments. According to SaharaReporters investigation, the EFCC inquiry died as soon as the Presidency got wind of it.
Dan Etete formed and registered Malabu Oil and Gas LTD on April 24, 1998 while serving as Petroleum minister. The company initially had three shareholders, Mohammed Sani Abacha (a son of the late Sani Abacha), Kweku Amafagha (another version of Dan Etete’s alias) and Hassan Hindu (wife of Hassan Lawal, a former Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK). Five days after the company was formed, military dictator, Sani Abacha, awarded it two lucrative oil blocks, OPL 245 and OPL 214.