When Mohammed Bello Adoke telephoned JP Morgan

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When Mohammed Bello Adoke telephoned JP Morgan

September 28, 2021

Lorenzo Bagnoli

An internal email exchange between anti-money laundering officers at JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) bank records that a “Mr Adoke”, described in the email as “the former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General”, sought to transfer $1,092,015,000 from a Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) account, held with the London branch of JPMC, even though he was not a Minister at the time. JPMC refused to act on the transfer proposal.

The funds were held in an account set up by the FGN to receive funds from oil multinationals Shell and Eni as part of the deal through which the companies acquired the licence to the controversial OPL 245 oil block in Nigeria in 2011. The funds were ultimately transferred by officials of the FGN to Malabu Oil and Gas, the company that previously held the licence. Malabu is controlled by convicted money launderer Dan Etete who awarded the block to the company when he was oil minister.
The JPMC email, dated 24 June 2011, was entered as defense evidence by ENI in its recent trial in Milan on charges of international corruption related to the OPL 245 deal. The Milan court acquitted the company (together with Shell and other defendants) in March 2021. The judgment has been appealed by the Prosecutor and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is a party to the case.

The email, entitled “FGN summary of the facts”, was prompted by the failed transfer of $1,092,015,000 from the FGN account to an account at BSI bank in Switzerland held by Petrol Services Ltd, a company close to close to the then Italy’s honorary consul in Nigeria and his Nigerian associates. The transfer was rejected by BSI bank for ‘compliance’ reasons.

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The ‘Adoke’ telephone call

The email gives a detailed chronology of JPMC’s business relationship with the FGN in relation to the account. It was written by Simon Lloyd, JPMC’s Executive Director of Anti-Money Laundering and Sanctions Compliance for Europe, Middle East and Africa. 

Lloyd’s email log records that the Nigerian cabinet, in which Adoke had served as Attorney General, had been dissolved on 30 May 2011, following the results of a general election. A new cabinet was not fully appointed until 2 July 2011. From 30 May to 2 July, Adoke was therefore out of office. Nonetheless, according to Lloyd, JPMC received a telephone call on 20 June 2011 “from Mr Adoke, the former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General”. At the time, former Attorney General Adoke was a private citizen, not a government official.

Lloyd’s email log records that the Nigerian cabinet, in which Adoke served as Attorney General, had been dissolved on 30 May 2011, following the results of a general election. A new cabinet was not fully appointed until 2 July 2011. In the interim, according to Lloyd, JPMC received a telephone call on 20 June 2011 “from Mr Adoke, the former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General”. 

The email records: “Adoke states that FGN would like to give JPM another instruction to make payment to a separate account number in another bank. Mr Adoke proposed that in the absence of a serving Minister of Finance, the instructions would come from the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance”.

From 30 May to 2 July, Adoke was therefore out of office. Nonetheless, according to Lloyd, JPMC received a telephone call on 20 June 2011 “from Mr Adoke, the former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General”. At the time, former Attorney General Adoke was a private citizen, not a government official

JPM declined to act on the reported request by “Mr Adoke”. According to Lloyd: “JPM advised that . . . [it] would need to be instructed by the new Minister of Finance as the authorised representative of FGN in the agreement”. Mr Adoke has stated that he was “on holiday abroad as a private citizen” from 29 May 2011-2 July 2011 and “did not have any dealings with official matters on behalf of the Government of the Federation of Nigeria”.

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A forged email?

Adoke’s denial that he acted in an official capacity from 29 May- 2 July 2011 was first made in response to the disclosure of a further email, dated 21 June 2011.

This second email, obtained by the Milan Prosecutor through a Mutual Legal Assistance request to the United Kingdom, was sent from ‘agroupproperties@yahoo.com’ to Bayo Osolake, an employee at JPMC. Attorney General Adoke was in touch with Osalake when the FRN account at JPMC was being set up. 

The email, which was sent a day after the telephone call from a ‘Mr Adoke’ that Lloyd recorded in his log of correspondence, was signed “Mohammed Bello Adoke”.

The Resolution Agreements for the OPL 245 deal were attached to email. In an apparent reference to these attachments, Lloyd’s log records that on 21 June JPMC was provided with “details of the settlement between all the parties” by “the Nigerian office of the Attorney General”, adding: “The details of this settlement are not in the public domain”.

Mr Adoke has vigorously denied sending the 21 June email, which he describes as a forgery.

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In a complaint to the Nigerian Inspector General of Police, Adoke states that he could not have been the author of the email because (in addition to being on holiday on 21 June) the email was signed by ‘Mohammed Bello Adoke’ whereas all of his correspondence “whether physical or electronic are signed off with the suffix SAN” and at no time had he signed off “any document without using his rank in the legal profession”.

Other documentary evidence from the Milan trial reveals that “agroupproperties@yahoo.com” was the email address provided by Nigerian entrepreneur Abubakar Aliyu when he opened an account with First Bank Nigeria for Novel Properties and Development Company Ltd. 

The company is alleged by the Milan Prosecutor to be one of several fronts through which bribes were channelled from the OPL 245 deal to public officials. The Milan judges accepted that more than $500 million were disbursed through Aliyu companies to individuals.

Documentary evidence from the Milan trial reveals that “agroupproperties@yahoo.com” was the email address provided by Nigerian entrepreneur Abubakar Aliyu when he opened an account with First Bank Nigeria for Novel Properties and Development Company Ltd

Milan Judges: Adoke received “a benefit” from OPL 245 funds

In their judgment, the judges in the Milan trial describe the “agroupproperties@yahoo.com” email as confirmation of “the relationship between Minister Adoke and the companies of Alhaj Abubakar Aliyu” – a relationship which is described as proof of “a mixture of economic interests that is serious circumstantial evidence of receipt of benefits from Malabu’s payments”.

Although Adoke has vigorously denied receiving any payments from the OPL 245 deal, the Milan court ruled as a fact that he “is the only one of the three public officials indicated in the indictment as necessary parties to the corrupt agreement to have received a benefit directly deriving from funds from the OPL 245 operation”.

The Milan judges state that Adoke received some $2 million from the deal. The money originated from Aliyu Abubakar and was paid into Adoke’s account though numerous cash payments from Bureaux de Change. 

The judges hypothesize that the payment may have represented legal payments of a prior debt owed by Etete for legal services provided by the former Attorney General when in private practice. 

However, the judges’ hypothesis conflicts with statements made by Adoke through his lawyers. Adoke’s London solicitors Gromyko Amedu have stated: “Our client vigorously denies that he received a bribe of $2.2 million or any other sum on account of the OPL 245 Settlement Agreement”.

Adoke himself has acknowledged that Abubakar repaid a mortgage loan that Adoke was unable to service for a house that he had purchased from Abubakar. 

In his recently published autobiography titled Burden of Service, Adoke states: 

“I approached my bankers seeking a mortgage to buy a house. Alhaji Aliyu Abubakar, a builder and a developer whom I had been acquainted with for a long time, had earlier approached me with an offer to sell me a house for N500 million. The bank, the Chairman of whose Audit Committee I used to be, agreed that I should make an equity contribution of N200 million for a mortgage loan of N500 million that they would extend to me. The mortgage was approved and the payment made directly to the developer, not me. 

“I had hoped to raise the N200 million from the sale of a piece of land I owned in Abuja. However, it turned out that I could not secure a buyer . . .Meanwhile, interest was accumulating on the N300 million loan from the bank . . .

“As I was ruminating over how to sort out the problem, the developer contacted me, offering to return the money paid to him by the bank . . . I suggested Abubakar should approach the bank and offer to pay back the loan since I was unable to sort it out. I asked him to retrieve the title documents which he gave to the bank on receipt of their N300 million.

“All I know beyond that conversation was that he paid off the loan to the bank and retrieved the title documents. I have no inkling of how he paid or how much he paid. I have no idea if he made the payments in dollars, neither do I know if a bureau de change was involved. I merely recall that both the developer and the MD of the bank confirmed to me that the loan had been repaid and that the title documents had been returned. I asked that the bank account be closed. That ended the matter as far as I was concerned.”

Abubakar and Adoke are currently being prosecuted by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on money laundering and corruption charges related to the OPL 245 deal. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Although the Milan Court dismissed the charges against Eni, Shell and other defendants, it did not rule out the possibility of offences associated with the OPL 245 field having taken place in Nigeria. It ruled, however, that, if this was the case, it was outside of Italian jurisdiction.

Opl 245 Papers
Opl245Papers” is a project led by IrpiMedia which will be online from the first half of October. For the first time the project will provide complete access to the court documents from the OPL245 affair. In Italy the trial, after the prosecution with the charge of international corruption for Eni and Shell managers, ended in the first instance with the acquittal of all the defendants. Now the prosecutor appeal the decision for a second judgement.

The opl 245 affair remains controversial. It does not end with the Italian criminal proceedings, because civil and administrative proceedings are open in the world concerning the same events and in which transactions, mediations and compensation have been defined for some years, complete with sums recovered and returned to countries, governments and entities who claimed to have lost.

CREDITS

Authors

Lorenzo Bagnoli

Infographics

Lorenzo Bodrero

Photos

Jp Morgan