April 9, 2021

Shell, Eni acquitted of corruption charges in Nigeria oil case

An Italian court has cleared two global oil giants, Eni and Shell, over allegations of corruption in Nigeria. The long-running case centred on the $1.3bn (£936m) purchase of an offshore oil block in 2011. Prosecutors had alleged that the majority of the money was used to bribe Nigerian politicians and officials. But the court in Milan said the two firms, and 13 defendants including past and current executives, had no case to answer.

Under a 2011 agreement, Malabu Oil and Gas, owned by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete, handed OPL 245 back to Nigeria while in parallel Shell and Eni paid Nigeria $1.3 billion to settle a long-standing dispute over the oilfield’s ownership. Prosecutors alleged that just under $1.1 billion of that amount was siphoned off to politicians and middlemen, including Etete, a convicted money launderer who acquired the field in 1998 when he was oil minister under military ruler Sani Abacha. Prosecutors had called for Eni and Shell to be fined, for several past and present managers from both firms, including Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi, to be jailed and for $1.1 billion to be confiscated from the defendants.

The Nigerian government expressed its disappointment in a statement released shortly after the Italian court’s decision was announced. The statement added that Nigeria will continue to hold those responsible for the OPL 245 fraud accountable. The government said it would review the verdict and then consider whether to appeal.

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