EXCLUSIVE: Malabu Scandal: Canadian judge okays Nigeria’s seizure of Etete’s jet
A Canadian judge has confirmed the seizure and grounding of a luxury private jet purchased by a former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, with some of the alleged proceeds of the controversial $1.3 billion Malabu OPL245 oil deal.
The judge, Martin Castonguay, ruled that the plane, which landed in Montreal on May 29, must remain there. He also agreed with the claims put forward by the attorney to the Federal Republic of Nigeria over the seizure and grounding of the plane.
On June 6, PREMIUM TIMES reported how Nigeria tracked down the luxury private jet.
Asset recovery lawyers acting for the Nigerian government swooped after the Bombardier 6000 jet, tail number M-MYNA, soon after it touched down at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport in Canada on the evening of May 29.
At the time, it had just flown from Dubai via Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland.
According to Olabode Johnson, an attorney for the Nigerian government, an order was served on the jet’s owner, a company called Tibit Ltd, which was expected to file court papers opposing the seizure.
Tibit Ltd is an anonymously owned company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Giuseppina Russa is also named on the Montreal court order. BVI company records suggest Tibit’s sole director is Giuseppina Russa of J. Russa Consultants, a company based in Montreal. Ms Russa, who appears to have previously been an executive assistant of sales for Bombardier, is not thought to be Tibit’s beneficial owner.
Detailed copy of the court ruling was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES through this newspaper’s London partner, Finance Uncovered.
According to the details, Tibit ltd, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, argued for the overturn of the seizure and grounding of the jet. But according to arguments filed by Nigeria, Tibit is a shell company whose ultimate beneficiary is Mr Etete.
In its ruling Tuesday, the court agreed with the argument of the Nigerian government.
“The Tribunal considers that the links established in the affidavits of Johnson’s are sufficient to establish prima facie that Tibit was created to serve as a front for Etete in his various maneuvers to launder colossal amounts of money, obtained, according to Nigeria, through his embezzlement while he was the trustee of oil assets belonging not to the Nigerien political class, but to the Nigerian people,” the court ruled.
The court also noted that in a recent decision, the Court of Appeal reiterated the principles applicable to seizure before judgment. With reference to article 520 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the court noted that “[t]he seizure was made before the judgment is made by means of an enforcement notice on the basis of instructions from the supported by his affidavit in which he asserts the existence of the claim and the facts giving rise to the seizure.”
The court noted that it would be “simplistic to analyse only Tibit’s behaviour with regard to the sufficiency of the affidavit since it is the responsibility of Etete who is sought while Johnson’s affidavit seeks to establish” the obtaining of funds by Mr Etete as part of his ministerial functions, as well as the dispersal of these funds through certain persons or corporate entities “for the purpose of laundering those funds.”
The court acknowledged that Mr Johnson’s affidavit has many exhibits, including, in particular, judgements of foreign courts, requests for transfer money, among others, to which the Tribunal refer in its analysis.
The court noted also that evidence shows that Kweku Amafegha was widely reported to be an alias or front for Mr Etete, adding that Mr Etete also accepted that as he had conceded to the French criminal Courts.
“Chief Etete’s evidence was that he used this name when he went on ‘secret missions intemationall’ in order to disguise his identity,” the judge noted. “However, Chief Etete denied in cross-examination that he also used Kweku Arnafegha as an alias. The other evidence relating to payment of the incorporation expenses also strongly suggested that Hassan Hindu was a nominee for, and/or an associate of, Chief Etete. I find as a fact that, from its incorporation and all material tiree, Chief Etete had a substantial beneficial interest in Malabu.”
Based on a number evidences, the judge ruled noted that the court could establish that “Etete has interests greater than 50% in the Malabu company; Etete uses aliases; Etete has been convicted in France of money laundering; (and that) Etete’s testimony before Judge Gloster is anything but credible.”
The court noted further that Mr Johnson’s affidavit recounts how Mr Etete financed Tibit for the acquisition of the plane, which, according to a website excerpt from Mr Johnson’s affidavit, would have been seen in flight only six times since 2013.
Tibit also defended itself based on an affidavit signed by one Justin Ikonga, who declares himself sole shareholder and director of Tibit. In his affidavit, Mr Ikonga dwelt on the Dubai-Montreal trip and the firm’s lack of knowledge of the asset freeze. But he did not focus on the concerns around money laundering.
In his submission, however, Judge Castonguay ruled that he is not ready to sign an affidavit asserting that Tibit does not own the plane for Mr Etete and thereafter maintained the seizure.
In his final submission, the judge noted that Mr Johnson’s two affidavits advance and demonstrate prima facie that “(Mr) Etete, by the Malabu company, was awarded a contract and royalties representing huge sums of money in terms of exploitation of an oil concession off the coast of Nigeria; Etete has used various tricks over the years to hide or whitewash the sums in question; Etete, via the company Rocky Top Resources, transferred an amount of some 54 million dollars to Tibit; the sum of 54 million was used for Tibit’s acquisition of the Aircraft; the Aircraft is not operated commercially; and that (Mr) Etete has already been convicted in France of money laundering.”
The court also noted that Mr Johnson’s affidavits and the affidavits of the other witnesses are sufficient to demonstrate prima facie that Etete had “persistent and egregious dishonest conduct”, including the use of Tibit as a front.
Based on the reasons, the judge rejected Tibit Limited’s application for an injunction to set aside the seizure before judgment.
The Malabu OPL245 scandal is 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 Mr Etete and several others linked to Malabu with money laundering in connection with the onward flow of funds from the OPL245 deal.
Like former President Goodluck Jonathan and other officials alleged to have been involved in the deal, Mr Etete has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the allegations as “political propaganda”.
Now aged 75, he is thought to divide his time between Dubai and France.
Mr Etete is alleged to have paid a total of $57m for the jet in 2011. It has a range of up to 6,000 nautical miles and a luxurious interior for 17 passengers. The jet was part of an epic spending spree Mr 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, Mr 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, Mr 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 over $800million then trickled down to Etete via several bank accounts, and that one of the first payments he made, $54m, was the main installment on this jet.
Having failed to secure his return to stand trial, Nigeria issued an arrest warrant for him earlier this year. Authorities are understood to be seeking his extradition.
The plane has a current market value of approximately $20m, according to dealers. It is registered with the Isle of Man’s aircraft registry.