Details have emerged of how Nigerian government officials extracted from funds looted during the regime of late General Sani Abacha, through JPMorgan Chase, an American multinational investment bank and financial services company headquartered in New York.
Nigerian government has, however, filed charges against the bank for working with the said government officials to “extract nearly $900 million between 2011 and 2013 from a government bank account in London”, according to a report by New York Times.
The $900 million is part of the billions of dollars looted by government officials during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha.
A report by New York Times, a version of which was published in print on April 1, 2019, noted that the case has been filed before a court in Britain although JPMorgan Chase has insisted that the withdrawal of the money followed instructions by certain “senior government officials” from Nigeria. This is in spite of the refusal of the two banks, to which the money was wired, to accept the transfers over concerns bordering on violation of money laundering laws.
Another major source of concern is why JPMorgan Chase went ahead to approve the release of the funds, despite the the issues it had with the request, which it reported to financial regulators. However, in spite of its suspicion that the request for extraction could have come from the basis of money laundering, it went ahead to make the transfers.
As a result, the Nigerian government is now requesting the court to compel the bank to pay up in damages. JPMorgan Chase has countered the suit with its own court documents, basing its position on the fact that the agreement signed between both parties was also subject to following instructions of the Nigerian government even if the bank had its misgivings that the transactions “were not in the best interest” of the former.
However, the back-and-forth on the funds did not begin in 2019. Flash back 20 years ago, specifically in 1998, Sani Abacha had awarded an oil licence to Dan Etete, Nigeria’s oil minister at the time for $2million. However, the transaction was projected to yield billions of dollars in revenue, and there were unsuccessful attempts by the successive government to revoke the licence on the grounds of corruption.
Fast-forward to 2007, asides being convicted of money laundering in France in an unrelated case, a deal was struck involving Etete, the Nigerian government and two oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni for sale of the licence. However, Etete and friends of former President Goodluck Jonathan were said to have benefitted more than $1billion in the deal and the case is currently on trial in Italy.
In February 2018, Bayo Ojo (SAN), a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, had admitted to the court that he received a “compensation” of $10million from Etete for his work as a legal adviser during the sale of OPL 245.
An account was opened by the Nigerian government officials with JPMorgan in London, and a subsidiary of Eni deposited about $1.1billion on May 25, 2011, of which a transfer-request to the Banca Svizzera Italiana, a Swiss Bank, was made. Howeverm the Swiss bank rejected the transfer request on the grounds of that it suspected that the funds would eventually find its way to Etete. These were presented in the documents made available to the Italian court. With the situation on ground, JPMorgan Chase also expressed reservations on the funds to financial regulators in Britain, but did not take any action to limit activity on the account.
Weeks later, in July of the same year, a transfer request was made for the bank to transfer the funds to a bank in Lebanon. A document on this request was made available to the British court, signed by Nigeria’s Attorney General. This was to enable release of the funds because some part of the funds were affected y a court-ordered freeze ruling. The judge approved the release of $800million of the said funds, but also expressed particular concern about the fact that the request may “a money-laundering exercise”.
However, the $800million was transferred as requested, but the Lebanese bank, Banque Misr Liban, rejected the transfer. After the rejection, a transfer request was sent to JPMorgan Chase to send the funds in two deposits of $400million each to two Nigerian bank accounts owned by Etete. While JPMorgan reported the transfers to the British Serious Organised Crime Agency (now the National Crime Agency) as suspicious, it went ahead to make the transfers anyway. In 2013, another $74million was requested to be transferred to a corporate account belonging to former oil minister based in Nigeria.