Oil giants face Nigeria bribe case
Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Italy’s Eni, is among several current and former managers charged, as well as the two corporations themselves.
The case involves the purchase of an offshore oil block in Nigeria, one of its largest untapped oilfields, for US$1.3 billion in 2011 while the companies deny the accusations, saying they acquired the rights in accordance with Nigerian law.
Shell and Eni each own half the oilfield, with Eni as the operator.
An Italian judge ruled yesterday (Wednesday) that the case would go to trial, starting in Milan on March 5.
The trial in Italy follows a prolonged probe by Italian prosecutors and is also the focus of Nigerian and Dutch investigations.
Anti-corruption organisation Global Witness said it could be one of the most significant corporate corruption cases in history.
Simon Taylor of the NGO said: “The Nigerian people lost out on over US$1 billion, equivalent to the country’s entire health budget . . . They deserve to know the truth about what happened.”
The firms both face charges in Nigeria over the case, which involves the OPL-245 offshore oilfield. The oilfield, estimated to hold 9 billion barrels of crude oil, was secured by Shell and Eni in 2011.
It is claimed that a large chunk of the US$1.3 billion payment went to individual Nigerian politicians as a bribe rather than into state funds.
Emails exchanges between Shell management, which were leaked by Global Witness this April, suggested Shell was aware payments would end up with individual Nigerian politicians.
Managers within the firms are facing charges; including Descalzi and former Shell executive Malcolm Brinded.
The companies are being accused of using a Nigerian contact, an ex-oil minister Dan Etete, to handle the payments.
Leaked Shell emails said the oil giant developed ties with Etete with “lunch and lots of iced champagne” who could “smell the money” as Shell and Eni sealed the deal, one email read.
Etete also faces legal charges in Italy although he has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Eni’s board of directors expressed confidence that neither the company nor Descalzi were involved in any illegal conduct.
Shell also said nothing illegal had happened. “We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees,” a Shell statement said.
Shell acknowledged in April that it knew Malabu, the firm linked to Etete, would be “compensated” for forfeiting its claim to the oilfield but said all transactions with the Nigerian authorities were “fully legal”.
Little oil wealth reaches Nigeria’s poor. Picture credit: Flickr