Chineme Okafor in Abuja with agency reports
The federal government Thursday filed a $1.1 billion lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell and Eni in a commercial court in London over a 2011 deal involving Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL) 245.
The OPL 245 oilfield is also at the heart of an ongoing corruption trial in Milan in which former and current Shell and Eni officials are in the dock.
Milan prosecutors alleged that bribes totalling $1.1 billion were paid to win the licence to explore the field which, because of disputes, has never entered into production.
The main trial – which besides Eni and Shell also involves Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi and four ex-Shell managers including former Shell Foundation Chairman Malcolm Brinded – is expected to drag on for months.
The new London case also relates to payments made by the companies to get the OPL 245 oilfield licence in 2011.
“It is alleged that purchase monies purportedly paid to the Federal Republic of Nigeria were in fact immediately paid through to a company controlled by Dan Etete, formerly the Nigerian minister of petroleum, and used for, among other things, bribes and kickbacks,” Reuters quoted a government statement as saying.
“Accordingly, it is alleged that Shell and Eni engaged in bribery and unlawful conspiracy to harm the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that they dishonestly assisted corrupt Nigerian government officials.”
The office of Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice did not respond to Reuters’ phone calls and messages seeking comment.
But Shell said, “The 2011 settlement of long-standing legal disputes related to OPL 245 was a fully legal transaction with Eni and the Federal Government of Nigeria, represented by the most senior officials of the relevant ministries.”
Eni said in an emailed statement it rejected “any allegation of impropriety or irregularity in connection with this transaction.”
“Eni signed a commercial agreement in 2011 for a new licence for OPL 245 with the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company and the consideration for the licence was paid directly to the Nigerian government,” it said.
The federal government had filed a London case against United States bank, JPMorgan, for its alleged role in transferring over $800 million of government funds to Etete, who has been convicted of money laundering.
In another separate trial, a Milan court in September found a middleman guilty of corruption after prosecutors alleged he had received a mandate from Etete, who had denied any wrongdoing, to find a buyer for OPL 245, collecting $114 million for his services.
An Italian judge sentenced Nigeria’s Emeka Obi to jail in the first ruling on the controversial OPL 245 deal, the oil industry’s biggest graft scandals.
Obi, accused of being middleman and taking illegal kickbacks, had asked for a separate fast-track trial which, under Italian law, allows sentences to be cut by a third.
In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for Shell had said neither Obi nor Di Nardo worked on behalf of the company.
“Based on our review of the Prosecutor of Milan’s file and all of the information and facts available to us, we do not believe that there is a basis to convict Shell or any of its former employees of alleged offences,” it said.
Also in emailed comments, Eni reiterated it had acted correctly in the purchase of OPL 245, saying it had worked directly with the federal government.