Three anti-corruption groups have applauded the appeals lodged by Milan prosecutors against the acquittal of Shell, Eni and 13 other defendants accused of corruption in the acquisition of Nigeria’s OPL 245 offshore oilfield.
Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA), Re: Common, and Corner House described the development as a welcome development in their joint statement on Tuesday.
The statement was signed by Lanre Suraj of HEDA, Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House, and Antonio Tricarico of Re: Common.
Prosecutors had charged the defendants with paying $1.1 billion in bribes to Nigerian politicians and receiving kickbacks in the shady acquisition process of the highly lucrative OPL 245.
The oil field was originally awarded under questionable circumstances to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in 1998.
Shell, Eni and other defendants have consistently denied any wrongdoing in their transactions regarding the oil field in 2011.
PREMIUM TIMES reported in March how an Italian court in Milan acquitted defendants in the corruption case involving $1.3 billion controversial Malabu OPL 245 deal.
In the court’s judgement, the judge, Marco Tremolada, acquitted the defendants saying they had no case to answer.
The Milan court suggested that corrupt dealings might have taken place, but noted that the oil companies and other defendants were not involved and that any illegality was a matter for the Nigerian, not Italian courts.
But Milan prosecutors have now reportedly appealed against the verdict. An Italian newspaper quoted a Milan prosecutor as describing the acquittal judgment as “thin and illogical”.
HEDA, Corner House and Re: Common, also criticised the acquittal judgement which they said distorted and ignored vital evidence on Tuesday.
“Our own analysis suggests that the Milan judgment was deeply flawed,” Mr Suraj was quoted as saying in the joint statement.
“At times, the judges’ reasoning borders on fantasy. The lazy racism stereotype that suggests that any corruption in the deal was restricted to Nigerians and Nigeria cannot be allowed to let Western defendants off the hook.”
On his part, Mr Tricarico of Re: Common said, “The OPL 245 case has put the Italian judicial system on trial”.
“The appeal is the opening salvo in a battle for the soul of the Italian judiciary and Italy’s standing in the international anti-corruption community.”
In his own comment, Mr Hildyard of Corner House said “the judges bent over backwards to give the companies the benefit of the doubt, distorting or ignoring vital contradictory evidence”.
“This bias needs to be investigated,” he added.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how almost half of the $1.1 billion paid by Shell and Eni in the OPL 245 deal ended in escrow accounts controlled by a Nigerian businessman, Aliyu Abubakar.
The oil multinationals allegedly paid the money through the Nigerian government to Malabu, the company originally awarded the lucrative oil field.
The money was said to have been transferred to Mr. Mr Aliyu who allegedly shared the money with top officials of Shell and Eni as well as officials of then President Goodluck Jonathan administration, the prosecutors said.
The OPL 245 was transferred to Malabu under shady circumstances in 1998.
Dan Etete, who was controlling Malabu, was then the sitting petroleum minister when the oil field was fraudulently awarded to the firm in 1998.
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