…Jet suspected to be from Malabu OPL 245 oil deal
Following a Quebec judge order last Saturday, the Nigerian government is said to have seized the luxury private jet purchased by former oil minister, Dan Etete.
The jet is believed to have been purchase with proceeds of the notorious $1.3 billion Malabu OPL245 oil deal.
The judge granted the order for the aircraft in the early hours of Saturday morning, according to Premuim Times.
Asset recovery lawyers commissioned by Nigeria, tracking the aircraft, closed in last week after the Bombardier 6000 jet, tail number M-MYNA, touched down at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport in Canada on Friday evening, (29 May).
Reports said the aircraft had flown from Dubai via Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland. It is not known whether any passengers were on board.
Premium Times said its London partner, and Nigerian lawyer, Babatunde Olabode ‘Bode’ Johnson, confirmed the seizure.
Johnson said that the order was served on the jet’s owner, a company called Tibit Ltd, which has until Tuesday next week (9 June) to file court papers opposing the seizure.
The former oil minister, Etete is alleged to have paid a total of $57 million for the jet in 2011. It has a range of up to 6,000 nautical miles and a luxurious interior for 17 passengers.
The purchase was part of an epic spending spree Etete is said to have embarked on after allegedly receiving over $800million from the OPL 245 deal.
As Nigerian oil minister in the last weeks of the corrupt Abacha military regime in 1998, Etete had effectively awarded the prospecting rights to the huge OPL 245 block to a company he secretly controlled, Malabu Oil and Gas.
After Abacha’s sudden death, Etete retained the rights as a private citizen until he offloaded them to oil giants Shell and Eni in 2011, who paid a combined $1.3 billion to the Nigerian government.
Investigators allege that over $800million then trickled down to Etete via several bank accounts, and that one of the first payments he made, $54 million, was the main installment on this jet. M-MYNA later took to the skies, resplendent in Nigeria’s national colours.
The entire Malabu OPL245 deal is now subject to a corruption trial in Italy, where Mr Etete is an accused, together with alleged middlemen, Eni and Shell, and several of their executives. All parties in the Milan trial have denied the charges against them.
The Nigerian authorities have also charged Etete and several others linked to Malabu with money laundering in connection with the onward flow of funds from the OPL245 deal.
He has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the allegations as “political propaganda”.
Having failed to secure his return to stand trial, Nigeria issued an arrest warrant for him earlier this year, while asset tracking agents are said to be on his trail
The plane has a current market value of approximately $20m, according to dealers. It is registered with the Isle of Man’s aircraft registry.
According to lawyer Bode Johnson, who was appointed by the Nigerian government in 2016 to recover assets from the Malabu OPL245 deal, the jet had been grounded in Dubai for the past four years, where it had been closely monitored.
On May 27, Nigeria obtained a proprietary injunction against Tibit in the BVI, Johnson said. A proprietary injunction allows a party to claim legal ownership over an asset.
Bombardier, the jet’s manufacturer, is headquartered in Montreal, and Johnson said it is suspected that the jet 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 3 am in Nigeria when I made a statement to the judge via video link.”
Johnson, the principal partner of Lagos law firm Johnson & Johnson Solicitors, was appointed by the Nigerian government in 2016 to recover assets from the Malabu OPL245 deal, as part of the Buhari government’s policy to outsource the recovery work to third parties in return for a success fee.
Chibisi Ohakah, Abuja