JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to identify any bank officials who signed off on $875 million of transfers to a former Nigerian oil minister, after the government said that some of the lender’s own managers expressed concerns.
The west African nation has accused the U.S. bank in a London lawsuit of ignoring red flags when it transferred funds between 2011 to 2013 from government accounts to Dan Etete, who had been convicted of money laundering. The current government says a contract awarded by one of its predecessors to explore the deep waters off the Gulf of Guinea was corrupt.
Lawyers for JPMorgan and the Nigerian government said at the end of a London court hearing Thursday that the bank would clarify who was involved in the decisions on the payments. The trial is expected in early 2022.
Nigeria’s lawyer, Roger Masefield, previously told the judge that the bank was being “incredibly coy” about its decision-making process. In the legal filings, he cited a JPMorgan manager saying in 2013 that “there were lessons to learn” from an earlier payment. The bank also filed six suspicious transaction reports to British authorities.
“The identity of the decision makers really does go to the heart of the dispute,” Masefield said.
A spokesman for JPMorgan, which lost an attempt to throw out the suit last year, declined to comment. The U.K. agency responsible for policing suspicious transactions at the time told JPMorgan that it was up to the bank to decide whether to make the payment in 2011.
“This claim will move forward and the Federal Republic of Nigeria will hold JP Morgan accountable for its central role” in the fraud, the government said in a statement after the hearing.
Nigeria alleges that the fraud reached the highest levels of the government of then-President Goodluck Jonathan — who has himself denied wrongdoing.
The bank is maintaining legal privilege over some documents, Rosalind Phelps, a lawyer for JPMorgan, said in court. The lawsuit is “really all to do with what the bank knew,” she said.
John Coulter, who oversaw sub-Saharan Africa for the bank at the time, said that he had no involvement in the final decisions to make the 2011 or 2013 payments, according to Nigeria’s legal filing.
By Jonathan Browning, November 12, 2020, published on Bloomberg