The gruelling Malabu Oil deal, otherwise known as OPL 245, now under investigation by a committee of the House of Representatives, has recorded a new development as a veteran Italian senator has called for an official inquiry into the allegation that several businessmen and former politicians, including prominent Nigerians, conspired to topple the leadership of the Italian oil giant, ENI and destabilise the company.
The Italian newspaper, Il Giornale, reported last weekend that Senator Lucio Barani asked for an inquiry into allegations that corruption charges around the sale of Nigerian OPL 245 had been used as part of a campaign to overthrow the leadership of the company.
The 2011 deal which saw Eni and Shell pay $1.092 billion to the Federal Government of Nigeria is the subject of legal proceedings both in Nigeria and in Italy with the Federal High Court in Abuja recently temporarily removing control of the block from the two international oil companies.
Senator Barani has publicly argued that the inquest is necessary because of the company’s strategic importance for the Italian economy and the danger of its being destabilised through foreign interference.
The alleged conspiracy to topple the current Eni leadership has been investigated by three regional prosecutors in Italy – in Trani and Syracuse before being moved to Milan, where the prosecutors are already investigating OPL 245.
The Italian media reports on allegations that the “conspiracy dossier” is now being hidden by the Milan prosecutors because it could challenge the arguments put forward by them in the OPL 245 matter and benefit Eni’s defence case.
The conspiracy investigation, according to the Italian media, centres on information from witnesses that several businessmen and former politicians, including several prominent Nigerians conspired to try and topple the Eni leadership and destabilise the company.
These Nigerians, according to various Italian press reports, include former National Security Adviser, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau; the Abacha family, former Attorney General, Christopher Bayo Ojo, and Italian-Nigerian businessman Gabriele Volpi.
Gusau was mentioned five times in the Italian prosecutor’s December notice of conclusion of the preliminary investigation into OPL 245.
Ojo was also repeatedly named.
The Abacha family continues to claim to be a 50 per cent shareholder in Malabu Oil, the Nigerian company that owned OPL 245 while Mr. Volpi was named by the United States Senate as a close associate and business partner of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
There is also an Iranian angle to the alleged conspiracy, with the Italian press reporting allegations that Iranian businessman Radwan Khawthani looked to influence former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to change the Eni leadership and have current CEO Claudio Descalzi replaced by an Eni executive called Umberto Vergine.
So while the Nigerian and Italian courts continue to investigate the 2011 OPL 245 transactions, questions are starting to be asked in Europe about whether the investigations themselves are serving the vested interests of powerful figures in Nigeria, Italy and elsewhere.