Ex-advisor and medical doctor John Abebe – once dubbed ‘Mr Statoil’ – has been pursuing a legal claim that Statoil had agreed to pay him the share of profits for helping the company to secure lucrative blocks in the 1990s.
The Court of Appeal in Lagos on Tuesday upheld an earlier ruling that Abebe has the right to the remuneration for his consultancy services, Bloomberg News reported.
Statoil had appealed a Federal High Court decision in December 2010 that resulted in an injunction that required Statoil’s earnings from its Nigerian operations to be held in escrow in the country pending resolution of the case.
At the end of 2011, Statoil had the equivalent of about Nkr4.3 billion ($708 million) in its accounts in Nigeria.
Analysts believe the ex-consultant could now be owed more than Nkr1 billion by the company after the court decision in his favour, though Abebe himself reckons the figure could run into more than Nkr10 billion, according to Norwegian business daily DN.
“I am very satisfied! I have been waiting for this for 22 years,” Abebe was reported as saying.
Abebe became involved with the company when it entered an alliance with BP in Nigeria in the early Nineties, according to an earlier Statoil statement.
Court of Appeal judge Helen Ogunwumiju said that Statoil inherited the consultancy agreement since it was reached through the tie-up with BP before the latter left the West African nation.
Statoil maintains its position that Abebe’s claims are “ill-founded and without merit”, and has vowed to appeal against the latest ruling by taking the case to Nigeria’s High Court.
Spokesman Baard Glad Pedersen said: “We disagree with the ruling. We think that Abebe’s claims are groundless and that we have strong legal arguments to reject all his claims.
“We take note of the appeal court’s assessment, and we think we have good chances to be heard by the supreme court.”
Statoil holds a 20.21% stake in the Chevron-operated Agbami deep-water field, which last year produced 250,000 barrels per day, giving Statoil about 44,000 bpd, and has reserves of about 900 million barrels of oil equivalent.
The company also has operatorships of two exploration blocks, OMLs 128 and 129, and has shares in two others.
Abebe was hired by Statoil for much of the 1990s, under an agreement with his firm Inducon Nigeria, to advise the company on its upstream business in the West African country, reportedly handing over $2.2 million in fee payments to the consultant.
Abebe, whose brother-in-law Olusegun Obasanjo was head of state in 1976-1979 and 1999-2007, also worked as a consultant for BP and later joined Statoil Nigeria’s board.
Commenting on this week’s Appeal Court decision, Abebe said “the panel of three judges took every point the lower court highlighted and came to their judgment”, adding: “It was the only conclusion they could have come to.”
And he told DN: “I am in no hurry. The profits from the fields I secured for Statoil are increasing daily, so I am quite happy if the company wants to keep a few more billions in escrow for three to four more years.”