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Italian court acquits Eni, Shell of corruption in OPL 245 deal

Italian court acquits Eni, Shell of corruption in OPL 245 deal
March 17
17:22 2021

An Italian court has acquitted Shell and Eni of corruption charges in the $1.1 billion OPL 245 deal in Nigeria.

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Marco Tremolada, the judge, delivered the decision on Wednesday.

Italian prosecutors had alleged corruption in the deal while campaigners said the Nigerian government was short-changed.

More than three years after the trial first began and 74 hearings, the court in Milan has now ruled that Shell and Eni are not guilty of the the charges.

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However, 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.

Rulings in Italy can be appealed and only become enforceable once they are final.

Prosecutors had prayed the Milan court to fine Eni and Shell, for a number of past and present managers from both firms, including Claudio Descalzi, Eni’s chief executive, to be jailed and for $1.1 billion to be confiscated from the defendants.

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‘WE BEHAVED PROPERLY’

Reacting to the judgement, Ben van Beurden, chief executive officer of Shell, said the oil-giant had always maintained that the 2011 purchase of OPL 245 was legal and designed to resolve a decade-long dispute over its ownership.

“At the same time, this has been a difficult learning experience for us,” he said.

“Shell is a company that operates with integrity and we work hard every day to ensure our actions not only follow the letter and spirit of the law, but also live up to society’s wider expectations of us.”

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Eni also welcomed the ruling saying that the acquittal showed the company and its chief executive had behaved lawfully and properly.

WHAT IS OPL 245 CONTROVERSY?

On April 9, 1998, the federal military government awarded OPL 245 to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, which was said to be owned mainly by Mohammed Abacha, son of the Sani Abacha, and Etete, who was the petroleum minister at the time.

On July 2, 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo revoked Malabu’s licence and assigned the oil block to Shell — without a public bid. Malabu went to court, but ownership was reverted to it in 2006 after it reached an out-of-court settlement with the federal government.

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Shell fought back and commenced arbitration against Nigeria, but when President Goodluck Jonathan came to power in 2010, the controversy appeared to have been resolved with Shell and Eni agreeing to buy the oil block from Malabu for $1.1 billion.

The oil companies also paid $210 million as signature bonus to the federal government of Nigeria.

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