Nigeria has lost her $1.7 billion claim against JP Morgan Chase Bank over the transfer of proceeds from the sale of OPL 245 in the controversial Malabu oil deal.
Ruling on the matter, yesterday, Judge Sara Cockerill said that the Nigerian government couldn’t show that it had been defrauded in the case.
In the suit, Nigeria also alleged that JP Morgan was “grossly negligent” in its decision to transfer funds paid by oil giants Shell and Eni into an escrow account controlled by a former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete.
Nigerian lawyer, Roger Masefield, had argued that the nation’s case rested on proving that there was fraud and JP Morgan was aware of the risk of fraud.
Judge Cockerill, yesterday, said that by the time of the 2013 payments, the bank was “on notice of a risk” of fraud.
“There was a risk – but it was, on the evidence, no more than a possibility based on a slim foundation,” the judge ruled.
Details of the OPL deal showed how Shell and Italy’s Eni, in 2011, paid the Nigerian government of then president Goodluck Jonathan a combined $1.3 billion for an oil block. Of that amount, $875 million was paid to Malabu Oil & Gas, a company controlled by former oil minister, Dan Etete.
Mr Etete had awarded Malabu the rights to the block in 1998, when he was Nigeria’s oil minister.
Within weeks of the deal in April 2011, half of Malabu’s money was allegedly packed into bags and paid out to Nigerian government officials and Western oil executives as cash bribes.
The deal had also spawned further lawsuits, including efforts by a new presidential regime in Nigeria to recover assets.
A panel of judges in Milan acquitted the companies and executives, who all denied any wrongdoing, of bribery last March. Prosecutors had, however, appealed the ruling.
Classified documents from Britain’s financial crime agency revealed how it allowed JP Morgan to pay $875 million of suspicious funds to Mr Etete, a former Nigerian oil minister.
Damages sought by Nigeria included cash sent to Mr Etete’s company, Malabu Oil and Gas, around $875 million paid in three installments in 2011 and 2013, plus interest, taking the total to over $1.7 billion.
JP Morgan, in a statement, said that the judgment reflects its commitment to acting with high professional standards in every country it operates in. The bank added that the judgement also shows how “we are prepared to robustly defend our actions and reputation, when they are called into question.”