Sources close to Italian law enforcement on Wednesday confirmed that they have requested that Shell, Eni and several Eni senior executives including the current CEO Claudio Descalzi, be sent to trial for alleged international corruption offences over the 2011 purchase of the massive Nigerian OPL 245 oil block.
Italian prosecutors also requested that former Nigerian Oil Minister, Dan Etete, and several other individuals be sent to trial. They are also seeking seperate charges against four senior Shell executives including the current Shell Foundation Chairman Malcolm Brinded, who at the time of deal was head of Global Exploration and Production.
In 2011, Shell and Eni paid $1.1 billion to Malabu Oil and Gas, a front company secretly owned by Mr. Etete. Prosecutors have alleged that over $500 million went to “fronts for (former) President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria”.
This crooked deal deprived Nigeria’s people of a sum worth 80 per cent of its 2015 healthcare budget. Shell and Eni have always denied that they knew the money would go to Malabu, but documents seen by Global Witness show that the companies constructed the deal knowing that the money would flow ultimately to Mr. Etete’s company.
Mr. Jonathan has denied the allegations, saying in a statement that he has never used fronts to “seek favour or collect any gratification on his behalf.”
“This request demonstrates that major international companies and their senior executives are not above the law. Shell and Eni look now to be finally facing a trial over these matters, and others need to wake up to the new reality where corrupt deals and the actions that lead to them cannot stay hidden behind closed doors. Global Witness has campaigned for decades to carve out transparency in this secretive sector; this case proves that the age of accountability is dawning.” said Simon Taylor of Global Witness.
Global Witness, Re:Common and The Corner House have campaigned and exposed the corruption around the OPL 245 deal for several years.
In January 2017 Nigerian authorities seized the block, pending the prosecution of the oil companies involved. Nigerian anti-graft commission, EFCC, labeled the oil block “proceeds of crime” and stated that they are seeking charges of “Conspiracy, Bribery, Official Corruption and Money Laundering” against Shell and Eni subsidiaries in Nigeria.
In his reaction to the Italian prosecutors actions, Nick Hildyard of The Corner House said, “It is excellent to see the Nigerian and Italian authorities together seeking justice and tackling the ‘fantastic corruption’ that the Global North promotes and benefits from.“
Antonio Tricarico of Re:Common said, “The Italian Government and other Eni shareholders must ask if Eni’s board has been asleep at the wheel over the company’s governance? Eni’s board should not be reappointed in April this year with an impending trial over serious alleged criminality by the CEO and other senior executives?”
In a press release on Wednesday, Eni’s board of directors commented that “Eni is entirely free of any involvement in the alleged corrupt conduct subject to investigation. The Board of Directors also confirms its total confidence that the company’s CEO, Claudio Descalzi, was not involved in any way in the conduct under investigation, and maintains their upmost support for him as CEO.”
No comment was immediately available from Shell. Shell has previously stated that “we hope to show that there is no basis to prosecute Shell. Shell takes this matter seriously and is co-operating with the authorities.”