A United Kingdom (UK) court, on Friday May 22, 2020, threw out a $1.1 billion lawsuit instituted by the Nigerian government against oil giants, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni, with respect to a dispute over the OPL 245 oil field.
The Nigerian government, who filed the case at a commercial court in 2018, alleged that the two multinational oil firms were aware that $1.1 billion from the payment made to secure an oil license was used for bribes and kickbacks.
The UK judge in charge of the case dismissed it on the grounds that the UK court did not have jurisdiction to try the lawsuit, just as it had the same facts for which Shell and Eni were currently undergoing trial in an Italian court.
In 2011, Shell and Eni, paid $1.3 billion to the Nigerian government for the acquisition of an oil block prospecting license. However, it was alleged that about $1.1 billion of that amount ended up in the account of Malabo Oil and Gas, which was owned by the then Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete and was used to pay political bribes.
He was alleged to have secretly awarded the oil fields to Malabo which he owns. Both oil firms have however, consistently denied being aware that the money would be used as bribes, but a report alleged that senior Shell executives were briefed on how the money would be used.
Shell and Eni are already being investigated over the matter. In February 2016, Italian and Dutch prosecutors began a formal investigation into the activities of Shell in acquiring OPL 245 having already began investigations on Eni officials in 2014.
Shell and Eni are still on trial in Milan under the Italian legislation that mandates that companies will be liable for crimes committed by directors and executives when a suspected unlawful conduct has benefitted the legal entity.
While the Italian trial is in its final stages, other lawsuits are pending elsewhere over the same Nigerian oil deal.
A spokesman for Nigeria expressed the country’s disappointment at the court’s decision to decline jurisdiction. He said that the country would continue to support the criminal proceedings still going on in the Italian court and seek permission to appeal the decision in UK court.