On Tuesday, the Federal High Court of Nigeria will hear a case to compel the Nigerian government to take back one of Nigeria’s most lucrative oil blocks, which has been at the centre of a $1.1 billion multinational corruption scandal.
The case is brought by Nigerian civil society organization, Human Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), who are demanding that the government “revoke the Operating Production Licence (OPL) 245 on grounds that the entire Malabu transaction in relation to the OPL 245 is unconstitutional, illegal and void as it was not legally granted, same having been obtained fraudulently vide corrupt practices.”
HEDA’s filings in support of its lawsuit argue that Eni and Shell’s current hold on the license is tainted by the original allocation of the license in 1998 to Malabu Oil & Gas, in which the then Nigerian Oil Minister Dan Etete held an ownership stake under a pseudonym, constituting the “height of conflict of interest and corrupt practices.”
HEDA also points to the Nigerian state’s own arguments in a related UK court case that the 2011 deal for the block with oil giants Shell and Eni was corrupt.
The motion filed by HEDA at the Federal High Court of Nigeria requires the Nigerian Attorney General to appear on May 8.
Lanre Suraju, Chairman of HEDA said “This action is instituted to expose the players in the notorious Malabu scandal in which extant local laws and policies were breached and blatantly ignored. We shall use the law to retrieve this national asset from unscrupulous persons and corporations.”
“This corrupt deal is spawning legal action all over the world. Global Witness wholeheartedly supports the move to revoke the rights to this oil block. Shell and Eni should not be allowed to profit from their appalling behaviour, and other oil companies should take note: it is no longer business as usual in the oil industry” said Barnaby Pace of Global Witness.
Shell and Eni currently hold the license and are pursuing a $13.5bn investment plan to develop the oil field. The companies have been dogged by corruption allegations around their 2011 deal to buy the block and are facing an unprecedented bribery trial which is scheduled to start in Italy on May 14. No company as large as Royal Dutch Shell has ever stood trial for bribery offences.
The criminal case brought by the Milan Public Prosecutor alleges that $520 million from Shell and Eni’s payment for the 2011 deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials. The prosecutor further alleges that money was also channelled to Eni and Shell executives with $50 million in cash delivered to the home of Eni’s then Head of Business for Sub-Saharan Africa, Roberto Casula.
Shell, Eni and their executives have denied all charges.
Antonio Tricarico of Italian NGO Re:Common said, “This case heralds the dawning of the age of accountability, a world where even the most powerful corporations can no longer hide their wrongdoing and avoid justice.”
For years, Shell had claimed that it only paid the Nigerian government for the oil block. But after the joint investigations of Global Witness and Finance Uncovered, Shell confessed it had dealt with convicted money launderer and former oil minister Dan Etete. Etete had awarded the OPL 245 oil block to his secretly owned company, Malabu, while serving as oil minister.
“This is not a case involving a few rotten apples,” said Nick Hildyard of Corner House. “The evidence points to systemic corruption – from the top down.”
A Shell spokesperson referred Global Witness to the company’s statement following the company’s indictment “We are disappointed by the outcome of the preliminary hearing and the decision to indict Shell and its former employees. We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees.”
Eni has said in a statement on their website regarding the case that the trial “will give the opportunity to Eni to fully defend its position and to provide full evidence of the correctness of the actions taken with respect to the OPL 245 transaction.”
Regarding the allegations against Eni’s CEO, the company has said “Eni’s Board of Directors has reaffirmed its confidence that the company was not involved in alleged corrupt activities in relation to the transaction. The Board of Directors also confirmed its full confidence that chief executive Claudio Descalzi was not involved in the alleged illegal conduct and, more broadly, in his role as head of the company. Eni expresses its full confidence in the judicial process and that the trial will ascertain and confirm the correctness and integrity of its conduct.”
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