Malabu Oil Scandal: CEO Of Arcadia Petroleum Was Bribed With This Chateau

Boasting a “superb view over Lake Geneva and the Alps”, seven bedrooms, a cinema room and extensive grounds with tennis courts and a swimmin...

Boasting a “superb view over Lake Geneva and the Alps”, seven bedrooms, a cinema room and extensive grounds with tennis courts and a swimming pool, the 19th-century château in Switzerland was advertised as an “exceptional country estate”.

In the summer of 2011 it was bought by Peter Bosworth, then chief executive of Arcadia Petroleum. The oil trading company transferred $31 million to lawyers in Switzerland to purchase the “sumptuous” property for Mr Bosworth, according to documents obtained by Finance Uncovered and seen by The Times.
Neither Mr Bosworth, 55, nor Arcadia Petroleum are household names, even within the oil industry. However, both are facing increasing scrutiny after being identified in multiple court cases as recipients of millions of pounds originating from an allegedly corrupt $1.3 billion Nigerian oil deal.

The deal involved Shell and Eni acquiring what is possibly the biggest untapped oil resource in Africa, Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245, in April 2011. A series of subsequent transfers ultimately resulted in $11 million being paid to Arcadia Petroleum and about $5 million to Mr Bosworth personally, court filings and leaked documents show. Neither Mr Bosworth nor Arcadia are parties in any of the litigation over the deal, and both deny any wrongdoing.

The Nigerian government has said in a High Court filing that it is investigating the reasons for the payments to Mr Bosworth and Arcadia Petroleum, and that it reserves the right to take action to try to recoup funds originating in the deal.

Mr Bosworth and Arcadia, which he left in 2013, both declined to explain the payments when approached by The Times and Finance Uncovered.

Leaked Arcadia files appear to link the funds from the Nigerian deal to Mr Bosworth’s house purchase. They show that two payments Arcadia received, totalling almost $8.5 million, were marked against Mr Bosworth’s debts to the company. His debts at the time appear to include about $6 million he had yet to repay from the purchase of the Swiss property.

Nigeria’s investigations into the payments are likely to focus on links between Arcadia, Mr Bosworth and Dan Etete, a convicted money launderer who was at the heart of the 2011 deal. These links are revealed in a vast cache of documents amassed by prosecutors in Italy that have been obtained by Finance Uncovered and seen by The Times.

Mr Etete, 74, was Nigeria’s oil minister in 1998 when he awarded the promising offshore oil block called OPL 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company that it later became clear that he controlled.

Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil major, bought into the block in 2001 but became embroiled in years of ownership disputes with Malabu and the Nigerian government.

In April 2011, a deal was struck in which Shell and Eni, the Italian oil company, together paid $1.3 billion to the Nigerian government for ownership of the block. Nigeria then transferred more than $800 million of this to Malabu.

Shell and Eni are on trial in Italy over alleged corruption in the deal, which they deny. Nigeria is also now suing Shell and Eni in London. Mr Bosworth and Arcadia are not party to either proceedings.

Nigeria alleges that corrupt officials in the 2011 administration effectively allowed the government to be used as a middleman to avoid Shell and Eni having to deal directly with Mr Etete, who in 2007 had been convicted of money laundering in a separate matter.

It alleges that the companies knew or should have known that Mr Etete had corruptly awarded the block to himself in 1998 and that the deal would result in the payment of bribes and kickbacks to government figures including Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president at the time. The companies also deny wrongdoing, as do Mr Etete and Mr Jonathan.

In its London court filings, Nigeria claims that some of the money Malabu received was transferred to Rocky Top Resources, another company linked to Mr Etete, and then on to Mr Bosworth and Arcadia. Mr Bosworth and Arcadia are not parties in this case. Nigeria says that it is “investigating the reasons for these” payments.

Leaked Arcadia emails and records show that about $11 million was transferred to Arcadia Petroleum in three tranches between November 2011 and November 2012 and $5 million to Mr Bosworth directly at a bank account in Lebanon in November 2011.

About $2.5 million of the cash Arcadia received from Rocky Top was set against expenses it attributed to the company, many of which were for Mr Etete. Payment records show Arcadia had been incurring expenses for the former oil minister since at least late 2009 and continued to do so until 2013. These included lengthy stays booked by Mr Bosworth’s personal assistant for Mr Etete at the luxury Le Bristol hotel in Paris, amounting to £174,000 between November 2009 and December 2010. A number of meetings related to OPL 245 were held at this hotel in 2010.

Leaked emails also appear to show that in August 2010 Mr Bosworth advised Mr Etete on his dealings with Diezani Alison-Madueke, then the Nigerian oil minister, over OPL 245.

An Italian judge, ruling in a separate case in which two middlemen were convicted of corruption over OPL 245, also referred to this email. The judge said that the email showed the involvement of Mr Bosworth and Arcadia “in the negotiations for the sale of OPL 245”. This is disputed by Mr Bosworth, who was not a party to this case.

Another leaked email, in November 2010, suggests that Arcadia appears to have held account-opening documents for Mr Etete’s bank account in Lebanon, which was the intended recipient of the proceeds from the OPL 245 deal.

In an email to Mr Bosworth’s PA, Mr Etete writes: “Pls, tell. Pete. That. Am. Going. Close. The. Transaction. On. Friday. With. Italians. Will. The. Bank. Details. As. Well. As. Original. Acct, opening. Documents. Want. To. Talk. To. Him, pls.”

This appears to relate to an earlier attempt to close a deal directly with Eni over OPL 245.

In addition to OPL 245, Arcadia also appears to have been pursuing a potentially significant LPG gas project on land owned by Mr Etete in the Niger Delta, although the project never materialised.

Goodluck Jonathan, a former Nigerian president, is embroiled in the scandal

Mr Bosworth resigned as chief executive of Arcadia in March 2013. Leaked emails show that later that year, and nearly two years after Arcadia first received payment from Rocky Top Resources, senior officials at JP Morgan contacted the company asking it to explain the payments.

Arcadia responded that it did “not have a business relationship with Rocky Top Resources”, saying that the receipts were “reimbursement for expenses & costs paid/incurred and repaid to Arcadia by Rocky Top Resources”.

Pressed for further details of what services it had provided, Arcadia responded that these included “legal fees, fees, travel costs and expenses”, which were incurred “in relation to a number of potential business opportunities and infrastructure projects in the energy industry”, including in crude oil and LPG plant construction. These projects were not being pursued, it said.

Internal emails suggest that it had, however, been unable to find receipts for $8.5 million of the payments.

Mr Bosworth confirmed that he knew Mr Etete and had “some knowledge of the OPL 245 transaction”, but said he was not directly involved in it. He said that he had helped Mr Etete with a requested introduction to an international bank, which he believed was in connection with the transaction, and gave Mr Etete “some advice on an informal basis when asked”.

“Given the knowledge as I had it at the time, I had no reason to believe anything was either unlawful or corrupt about it,” he said, citing the involvement of big international banks and “two highly reputable international oil companies”. Mr Bosworth did not address questions over the payments. A lawyer for Mr Bosworth said that no proceedings had been brought against him in relation to OPL 245.

Arcadia Petroleum said that it “denies any wrongdoing with respect to the OPL 245 matter”. It did not answer questions about the payments.

In February 2015 Arcadia began legal action against Mr Bosworth and another former executive over an alleged $335 million fraud, which is not related to his dealings with Mr Etete. Mr Bosworth and the other man both deny wrongdoing.

Arcadia said that it had “ongoing proceedings against Mr Bosworth and another former senior executive (who remained with the company in the period up to late 2013)”. It said that it had been and would continue to “co-operate with relevant authorities” and in the circumstances was unable to comment further.

JP Morgan said that it believed it had “complied with its legal and regulatory obligations”.

A Shell spokeswoman said that the 2011 agreement had been a “fully legal transaction with Eni and the Federal Government of Nigeria” and it did not believe there was a case to answer. Shell said that if improper payments were proved to have been made by Malabu or others, then “none of those payments were made with [Shell’s] knowledge, authorisation or on its behalf”.

She said the Nigerian government was a necessary party to the agreement, as it had created the ownership dispute between Shell and Malabu, but it would not comment on the claims made by Nigeria while the proceedings in Milan were continuing.

Eni said it “continues to strongly reject any allegation of impropriety or irregularity in connection with this transaction from any source”. The company added: “Eni reaffirms that it signed a commercial agreement in 2011 for a new licence for OPL 245 with the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company and the contractual consideration for receiving a new licence free and clear from claims and disputes of the past was paid directly to the Nigerian government in accordance with legal and valid contractual terms.

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