An Italian court in Milan on Wednesday acquitted oil giants Eni and Royal Dutch Shell along with a series of past and present managers including Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi of corruption charges, involving $1.1 billion payment in the oil industry’s biggest corruption scandal.
According to a report from Reuters, the judgement which was read out in court by judge Marco Tremolada is coming over 3 years after the trial first began and after a total of 74 hearings.
While pointing out that the companies and defendants had been acquitted as there was no case to answer, the judge equally said that court judgements in Italy are subject to appeal and only become enforceable once they are final.
The long-running case revolved around the $1.3 billion purchase by Eni and Shell of the OPL 245 offshore oilfield in Nigeria in 2011 from Malabu Oil and Gas, a company owned by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete.
Prosecutors who had alleged that about $1.1 billion of the funds was shared as bribes among politicians and middlemen, including Etete, called for Eni and Shell to be fined and for a number of past and present top officials from both companies, including Descalzi, to be jailed.
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However, the defendants have all denied any wrongdoing in the transaction. They said the purchase price for OPL 245 was paid into a Nigerian government account and subsequent transfers were beyond their control.
Matthew Page, an associate fellow at the Chatham House Africa programme said, “This is a huge blow for natural resource governance and transparency in Nigeria. The OPL 245 deal has been a multi-layered tale of corruption and malfeasance and international complicity that’s been going on for two decades.”
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“This judgment will continue to sting, as it is a real and visible defeat for global and Nigerian anti-corruption efforts,” he said.
Nigeria, in its reaction, said it was disappointed with the outcome and would consider its position once it had read the written judgment.
A spokesman for the Nigerian government in London said, “The Federal Republic of Nigeria will continue to hold those responsible for the OPL 245 fraud accountable, not only to ensure the people of Nigeria benefit from this valuable resource but also to make clear its commitment to rooting out corruption in all of its forms.’’
What you should know
It can also be recalled that a United Kingdom (UK) court, on May 22, 2020, dismissed the $1.1 billion lawsuit instituted by the Federal Government against oil giants, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni, with respect to a dispute over the OPL 245 oil field.
In dismissing the case which was filed at a commercial court in 2018, the UK judge in charge of the case said 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.
The Federal Government had also on September 9, 2020, asked a court in Milan to order Royal Dutch Shell and Eni to pay the sum of $1.092 billion as an immediate advance payment for damages in the Malabu oil scandal, one of the oil industry’s biggest-ever corruption scandals.