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Nigeria/Canada: Legal fight over a seized private jet

By Rémy Darras
Posted on Monday, 17 August 2020 15:46

Dan Etete, oil minister under Sani Abacha, is at the centre of the OPL 245 scandal. STR NEW/REUTERS

A legal fight in Canada's courts was sparked by the seizure at Montreal airport of a jet suspected of belonging to former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete - on trial for corruption in Italy.

The legal battle is intensifying over the luxurious Bombardier Global 6000.

It was seized on May 29 on the tarmac of Montreal International Airport, as it was coming from Dubai for its 60-month inspection.

READ MORE Nigeria’s ex oil minister Dan Etete unruffled by graft accusations

Jean-Charles Tchicaya, a lawyer from Bordeaux of Congolese origin — who has already ‘rescued’ several aircraft, notably for Equatorial Guinea during disputes with the Cameroonian businessman Yves-Michel Fotso and the operator Orange — decided to appeal on 14 August against the 4 August decision of a Canadian Superior Court judge to uphold the seizure of the private jet.

Hired by Tibit Ltd, the British Virgin Islands-registered company that owns the aircraft, Tchicaya now has the task of demonstrating that it is not the property of former Nigerian Oil Minister Dan Etete.

READ MORE Shell, Eni and the Nigerian corruption quagmire of OPL 245

Etete is accused of being involved in one of the continent’s biggest corruption scandals: the award in 2011 of $1.3 billion of oil block OPL 245 to the major oil companies Shell and ENI.

For the Canadian judge: “Tibit was created to serve as a screen for Etete in its various manoeuvres to launder colossal sums of money”, reports the judgment of which we have a copy.

READ MORE:Oil bloc OPL 245’s webs of influence

“I am very surprised that Canada seized the plane at the request of a gentleman who claims to be from Nigeria by videoconference, without having verified the warrant, without having initiated any proceedings against Dan Etete on its territory. This plane has landed several times in Nigeria without the authorities seizing it or initiating criminal proceedings against it since 2013. No jurisdiction in the world was looking for this plane,” says Jean-Charles Tchicaya.

Warrants without references or stamps

In addition to the procedures underway in Canada and the Virgin Islands, Jean-Charles Tchicaya has also initiated a request to the Nigerian authorities to authenticate the two warrants presented on 15 May and 27 July by Nigerian Babatunde Olabode Johnson, head of the Johnson and Johnson Sollicitators cabinet, on behalf of Justice Minister Abubakar Malami and his Permanent Secretary Dayo Apata, to see whether they really emanated from the country’s authorities.

The lawyer representing the Republic of Nigeria, Babatunde Olabode Johnson, who did not respond to our inquiries, describes himself on Linkedin as an “asset recovery expert”.

There is no doubt about this for Barnaby Pace of the British NGO Global Witness: “Johnson and Johnson Solicitors has already represented Nigeria in various lawsuits relating to the OPL 245 scandal, including the recovery of $70m from Malabu [a company that was the original owner of the rights to the oil field, of which Dan Etete owned shares] in the United Kingdom”.

A version that Jean-Charles Tchicaya questions, questioning his motivations and the validity of the documents.

These warrants, which we have obtained, “bear neither reference nor stamp but only the names of two witnesses presented as mere officials authorised to confirm the writings of the authorities. Johnson claims the dual status of agent and official representative of Nigeria, specifying that the latter will not bear any costs. Where do you see a lawyer who does not charge any fees to his clients, who does not accept anything for his mandate?” asks the lawyer.

When contacted, Dan Etete says he is “shocked and surprised that this company, Tibit, is attached to my name. These procedures are fabricated to further smear my name. I don’t know this Babatunde Johnson. I suspect that he was sent by dishonest people acting in their own interests using the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) and not the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). When one is mandated by a government department, it is normally the name of the FGN that should appear”.

 

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