Nigeria: High Court Acquits Former Attorney-General Adoke and Others in $1.1bn Malabu Oil Fraud Case

Nigeria: High Court Acquits Former Attorney-General Adoke and Others in $1.1bn Malabu Oil Fraud Case

By Ahmad Hadizat Omayoza, Mamos Nigeria

In a significant legal development, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, sitting at Jabi, has acquitted former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, and other co-defendants in the highly publicized Malabu Oil fraud case. The case, which garnered widespread attention, centered around allegations of fraud, bribery, and conspiracy involving the transfer of ownership of OPL 245, one of Africa’s largest oil blocs.

Mr. Adoke, along with two others – Aliyu Abubakar and Rasky Gbinigie – and four companies, including Malabu Oil and Gas Limited, stood trial on charges brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The accusations pertained to their alleged roles in facilitating the transfer of OPL 245 and receiving unlawful payments totaling approximately $1.1 billion.

The trial commenced on January 23, 2020, with the defendants vehemently denying the charges leveled against them. Among the allegations were claims that Mr. Adoke received gratification to facilitate the fraudulent oil bloc deal and that he played a central role in negotiating agreements between Shell, Eni, and Malabu Oil & Gas Limited.

The contentious OPL 245, initially awarded to Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd during the tenure of late military head of state General Sani Abacha, has been the subject of intense scrutiny due to allegations of irregularities surrounding its acquisition. The EFCC alleged that the transfer of ownership involved bribery and corruption at the highest levels of government and industry.

Despite the gravity of the accusations, Mr. Adoke maintained his innocence throughout the trial, submitting a no-case submission after the close of the prosecution’s case. He argued that the evidence presented failed to establish a prima facie case against him or his co-defendants, urging the court to dismiss the charges.

In a landmark ruling, Justice Abubakar Kutugi concurred with Mr. Adoke’s position, finding that the prosecution had failed to provide substantial evidence to justify compelling the defendants to enter a defense. The court held that crucial elements of the case, including allegations of illegal tax waivers and bribery, lacked corroborating evidence and failed to meet the threshold required for prosecution.

As a result, the court discharged and acquitted Mr. Adoke and the other defendants on all counts of the charge, except for Mr. Gbinigie, who still faces charges related to the alleged forgery of company documents.

Despite the favorable ruling, Mr. Adoke’s legal battles are far from over, as related cases remain pending before the Federal High Court in Abuja. The complexities of the legal proceedings underscore the challenges in prosecuting high-profile cases of corruption and financial malfeasance, highlighting the need for thorough investigation and compelling evidence to secure convictions.

The outcome of the Malabu Oil fraud case represents a significant chapter in Nigeria’s legal history, raising questions about accountability, transparency, and the effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts in combating white-collar crime. As the nation grapples with systemic challenges, the acquittal of Mr. Adoke and his co-defendants serves as a reminder of the complexities inherent in the pursuit of justice and the imperative of upholding the rule of law.

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