The licence for the controversial Nigerian offshore OPL 245 oil block has expired, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
According to civil society campaigners Global Witness, Eni confirmed the development in response to questions at their 2021 annual general meeting.
The organisation added on Wednesday that the expiry of the licence returns control of the oil field to the Nigerian government.
The OPL 245, estimated to hold 482 million barrels of economically recoverable oil, expired on May 11th, ten years after Shell and Eni paid $1.3 billion for the license in a deal trailed by criminal investigations and trials.
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
From accounts controlled by Mr Etete, about half the money ($520 million) went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil
Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by Mr Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
The oil resources of the OPL 245 license have remained undeveloped since the controversies began.
Eni initiated international arbitration proceedings against Nigeria in September, alleging the government has breached its obligations by refusing to let the firm develop the license, which has now expired this May.
Despite the expiry of the license, Global Witness says the field has been booked as an asset in Eni company’s accounts for 2020.
However, it added that the company acknowledges that this may need to be re-assessed “when preparing the next financial information”.
In March 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari rejected Eni’s request that Nigeria convert the licence to a fresh oil mining license, arguing that no further correspondence would be considered until criminal and civil court proceedings in Milan and London related to the 2011 deal had been concluded.
Anti-corruption campaigners HEDA, Re:Common, Corner House and Global Witness have applauded the stance taken by President Buhari.
Lanre Saraju, Chairman of HEDA, said the rule of law demands that no-one should be above the law.
“Shell and Eni’s deal for this license was deeply flawed,” Mr Suraj said.
“It would have been totally egregious to convert the license while the companies are still on trial for corruption in Nigeria and proceedings in Milan may not be concluded. Now that the license has expired, Shell and Eni should accept that they have lost the field.”
In March, PREMIUM TIMES reported how an Italian court declared Shell, Eni and their managers acquitted in the Malabu scandal.
They were all acquitted by the court in a trial that saw officials of the oil giants battle to prove their innocence. Several former executives of the companies were also cleared of wrongdoing, including Malcolm Brinded and Paolo Scaroni.
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