Blog | April 3, 2020

The Oil Heist of the Century: a journey around the world in search of truth and accountability

On 3 April 2020,  Global Witness and partners took an online audience of hundreds on a  virtual journey around the world - from an oil field off the Nigerian coast via Abuja and London to a courtroom in Italy -  to tell the story of one of the biggest corporate corruption cases in history and the search for truth and accountability.

Updated on 14 April with the full recording of the event.

Shell and the Italian oil company Eni knew their billion dollar payment for Nigeria’s valuable OPL 245 oil block was not going into the public purse, but would fill the pockets of a convicted money launderer and then might fund a vast alleged bribery scheme. The companies insist the deal was legal, have claimed they are innocent of any wrongdoing and their payment was only to the Nigerian Government. 

What they didn’t count on was their dealings being investigated and exposed by journalists and campaigners like Global Witness and our partners.  To find out how we did it and what this deal -  whose terms were set to deprive the Nigerian people of an estimated $6 billion - tells us about the flaws in our global economic system and what we did to hold those responsible to account and change the system.

We were originally meant to present on this topic with our partners at the Skoll World Forum, but when official programming was cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis, we quickly took up Skoll on their suggestion to turn it into a Virtual Ecosystem event.   

As so many of us have discovered during these difficult times, although we are physically distanced from each other, we remain more connected and more aware than ever of our collective strength. The virtual nature of the event meant that we were  joined on the panel from Italy by Antonio Tricarico,  Director of Re:Common, and from Nigeria by Olanrewaju Suraju, Chair of the NGO Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) to outline efforts to secure justice in Italy and accountability in Nigeria  - and use an interactive map to bring the story to life. (Although, as is often the way with these things, we experienced some issues with internet connections and interruptions from sirens along the way.)

What’s more we were able to open up the event to everyone and, with Skoll’s help to spread the word, we had an amazing virtual turnout of hundreds from around the world. As such, there were more questions than we could answer during the event. But don’t worry, our seasoned campaigner Barnaby Pace will be writing a follow up blog answering as many of your questions as possible. Watch this space.  

In the meantime, a huge thank you to Lanre, Antonio, Skoll and everyone who took part and submitted their questions. It is our hope that iconic cases like OPL 245 prove that those entrusted with power, whether in government, banks or big oil will think twice before assuming that they cannot be held accountable. This case and the work by our campaigners and many brave partners around the world proves that they can be.


  • Rachel Owens

    Head of EU Office and EU Advocacy / Directrice du Bureau (UE). Campaign Lead on Corporate Accountability

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