UPDATE 2-Nigerian court issues warrant for oil minister Etete’s in $1.3 bln oil deal

(Adds Etete’s lawyer response, background and Adoke bail)

ABUJA, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Lawyers representing former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete told Reuters on Friday it was “incredible” that a court had issued a warrant for his arrest in relation to a $1.3 billion oil deal scandal nine years after it was struck.

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission lawyer Balance Sanga told Reuters that the arrest warrant, issued by a court in Abuja on Thursday, was a precursor for declaring Etete wanted before the country sought Interpol help in apprehending him.

“They have to come and face trial,” Sanga told Reuters.

Lawyers representing Etete in Italy also told Reuters via email on Friday that authorities in Milan, where there is an ongoing court case relating to the deal, had not sought his arrest.

They did not immediately respond to a query regarding his whereabouts, or whether he would return to Nigeria to face charges. Sanga said Nigerian authorities were not sure of his location.

The circumstances surrounding the 2011 sale of the oilfield, OPL 245, is one of the oil industry’s biggest corruption scandals. It is the subject of an international investigation and an ongoing court case in Milan that has also ensnared figures from two of the sector’s biggest players, Shell and Eni.

The crux of the case is a $1.3 billion payment from Shell and Eni to secure the block and settle claims to it by Malabu Oil and Gas, a company a British court determined was controlled by Etete.

The companies have denied wrongdoing.

Last week, the EFCC formally charged former attorney general Mohammed Adoke with receiving bribes as part of the deal after he was extradited from Dubai to face the charges.

On Thursday, a high court in Abuja granted Adoke bail of 50 million naira and the condition that he surrender his passport. (Reporting By Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Libby George in Lagos. additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in London. Writing by Libby George; editing by Nick Macfie and David Evans)

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