Eni S.p.A has accused both Nigeria and US investment firm assisting the country with its litigation against the Italian oil giant and Royal Dutch Shell of lack of transparency in the $1.1 billion energy deal.
The Italian oil firm is seeking documents from the US investment firm helping Nigeria in the criminal corruption trial.
Eni S.p.A claim that undisclosed interests are driving the Nigerian government’s litigation strategy at the expense of Eni’s contractual rights and the national interest of Nigeria. The Italian oil company wants permission to subpoena information from the investment firm, Drumcliffe Partners LLC to help it file its defense in the corruption trial in Milan, which Nigeria has joined as a civil party.
This is the latest episode in a long-running dispute over a 2011 transaction, which set Nigeria against the 2 oil companies. The bribery case revolves around the purchase of OPL 245 offshore field, some 150 km off the Niger Delta, for about $1.3 billion from Malabu, a company owned by former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete.
Eni, in a memorandum filed in a US district court in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 6, said that Nigeria’s government initially supported Eni’s plans for developing its offshore permit known as Oil Prospecting License 245, but subsequently elected to wage a “multi-jurisdictional litigation campaign” against the company.
The Italian oil firm said it now has reasons to believe Nigeria’s actions are driven by third parties seeking to earn illicit profits and has applied for authorization to request that seven Delaware-registered Drumcliffe companies produce documents on the arrangements they set up for Nigeria’s OPL 245 litigation.
Drumcliffe’s Principal, Jim Little said, “We look forward to discrediting Eni’s conspiracy theories and wild innuendos. The application to the court is entirely baseless.’’
Shell and Eni have been on trial in Milan since 2018. Italian prosecutors say the companies obtained the permit 9 years ago by paying almost $1.1 billion into an escrow account for the Nigerian government. Prosecutors allege that most of those funds were siphoned off to politicians and middlemen with a huge part of it going to Etete himself.
Nairametrics had reported that the Nigerian government, through its lawyer, Lucio Mucia, at a hearing into the alleged corruption linked to Eni and Shell’s acquisition of OPL 245, called for a guilty verdict and an advance payment of about $1.1 billion for damages in one of the oil industry’s biggest-ever corruption trials.
Eni and Shell have, however, denied any wrongdoing and say they acquired OPL 245 through legitimate agreements with the Nigerian government, which required settling Malabu’s outstanding claim to the block.
To litigate its OPL 245-related claims, Nigeria retained the Lagos-based law firm Johnson & Johnson, which then entered into a funding agreement with Drumcliffe, Eni said.
According to a memorandum from Eni, a Nigerian media outlet in August published what it said was the contract between the law firm and Drumcliffe. Certain clauses of the opaque and ambiguous deal indicated that the litigation funder could be entitled to as much as 35% of the funds recovered by the government or nearly $400 million in the case of the Milan trial.
Eni said it requires information from Drumcliffe to better understand the funding arrangement. Also, that the allegation that Drumcliffe may have financed a billion-dollar lawsuit against Eni, in exchange for an enormous and disproportionate economic return deserves clear answers, a spokesman for the Italian company said.
However, Drumcliffe and Johnson & Johnson deny allegations that the U.S. firm stands to collect a sizable portion of what the Nigerian government manages to recoup, and describes reports of such potential returns as false and sensational.