A Milan court on Wednesday acquitted energy company Eni, its chief executive and Royal Dutch Shell in the oil industry’s biggest corruption case revolving around the $1.3 billion acquisition of a Nigerian oilfield a decade ago, according to Reuters.
The sentence, read out in court by judge Marco Tremolada, came more than three years after the trial first began and after 74 hearings. Tremolada said the companies and defendants had been acquitted as there was no case to answer.
The report said rulings in Italy can be appealed and only become enforceable once they are final.
The Nigerian government said it was surprised and disappointed by the verdict and would consider whether to appeal once its lawyers had read the written judgment.
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 alleged that just under $1.1 billion of that amount was siphoned off to politicians and middlemen, including Etete, a convicted money launderer who acquired the field in 1998 when he was oil minister under military ruler Sani Abacha.
Prosecutors had called for Eni and Shell to be fined, for a number of past and present managers from both firms, including Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi, to be jailed and for $1.1 billion to be confiscated from the defendants.
The defendants all denied any wrongdoing.
“This is a huge blow for natural resource governance and transparency in Nigeria,” said Matthew Page, associate fellow at the Chatham House Africa programme. “The OPL 245 deal has been a multi-layered tale of corruption and malfeasance and international complicity tha “This judgment will continue to sting, as it is a real and visible defeat for global and Nigerian anti-corruption efforts,” he said.