An Italian judge ruled last week that oil companies Royal Dutch Shell and Eni must face trial on corruption charges concerning a widespread bribery scheme to acquire oil exploration rights in Nigeria.
Judge Giuseppina Barbara of the Preliminary Hearing of the Tribunal of Milan in Italy set a March 5 trial date for Royal Dutch Shell, Eni, and a group of current and former executives. These executives include Eni’s chief executive Claudio Descalzi, and Malcolm Brinded, a former chief of exploration and production for Shell.
In 2011, Shell and Italian oil company Eni paid $1.1 billion to secure rights to one of Africa’s most valuable oil blocks, known as OPL 245. A special report, “Shell Knew,” published by Global Witness and Finance Uncovered showed that the money for the deal went directly into the pockets of Dan Etete, former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum and a convicted money launderer, who had awarded himself ownership of the block in 1998 through a company he secretly owned called, “Malabu Oil and Gas.”
Both companies have denied wrongdoing in the purchase of OPL 245. “We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees,” Shell said in a statement.
Eni’s board of directors, too, “reaffirmed its confidence that the company was not involved in alleged corrupt activities in relation to the transaction,” the company stated. The board’s decision was based on the results of independent advisors’ investigations, it added. “The advisors were appointed to examine all relevant resolutions and documents deposited within the closing of the Milan prosecutors’ investigation in 2016,” Eni added.
Eni’s board also confirmed its “full confidence” that CEO 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.”