Conviction in middlemen’s fast-tracked OPL 245 trial a poor omen for Shell and Eni’s defence just days before major bribery trial hears first prosecution witnesses.
Today two middlemen have been found guilty of corruption offences relating to Shell and Eni’s 2011 deal for one of Nigeria’s most promising oil licenses. The judgement was first reported by Reuters who cited a legal source.
The two middlemen Emeka Obi and Gianluca Di Nardo have been sentenced to four years jail time and confiscations of over €100 million. The pair had opted for a fast tracked trial for their role in the deal. The fast track process in Italian law offers a possible reduction in any sentence. A larger trial including Shell, Eni and 13 other defendants is ongoing. The prosecution will start presenting their evidence next Wednesday.
“Today sees the first men fall in the murky Malabu scandal. As Shell and Eni’s trial looms, time will tell whether it’s just the middlemen who pay the price for this epic crime against the Nigerian people. But one thing’s for certain: this judgment will send shivers down the corporate spines of the oil industry - and will surely alarm Shell and Eni employees and shareholders who have been repeatedly told that there was nothing amiss with the OPL 245 deal.” said Barnaby Pace, anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness today.
The larger trial is remarkable for both including two of the world’s largest corporations and a number of Eni and Shell’s current and former senior managers. Those on trial include Eni’s current CEO Claudio Descalzi, former CEO Paolo Scaroni, and Chief Operations and Technology Officer Roberto Casula alongside four former Royal Dutch Shell staff members including Malcolm Brinded CBE, former Executive Director for Shell’s Upstream International operations, and two former MI6 agents employed by Shell.
According to prosecutors, Obi kept in frequent contact with executives at Eni attempting to broker the sale of the oil license from Malabu Oil and Gas, a company owned by former Nigerian Oil Minister Dan Etete. Prosecutors accused Obi and Di Nardo of intending to use commissions from the deal to pay bribes to Nigerian public officials and kickbacks to Eni and Shell managers.
For years, Shell had claimed that it only paid the Nigerian Government for the OPL 245 oil block but in 2017 Shell admitted it had dealt with Etete who had awarded the OPL 245 oil block to his own secretly owned company, Malabu, while serving as Oil Minister.
The case against Eni and Shell brought by the Milan Public Prosecutor alleges that $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials. The prosecutors further allege that money was also channelled to Eni and Shell executives with $50 million in cash delivered to the home of Eni’s Roberto Casula.
Lanre Suraju, Chairman of Nigerian NGO Human and Environmental Development Agenda said today "Today’s conviction vindicates what international and Nigerian civil society has claimed for years. OPL 245 was a corrupt deal.”
Antonio Tricarico of the Italian NGO Re:Common added “Milan public prosecutors were right to bravely take Eni and Shell and their top managers to trial in Italy. The time has come that the Italian government, as main shareholder of Eni, considers suspending all those managers involved in the case until the final judgement.”
"We hope to see the money from this deal swiftly returned to the Nigerian people.” said Nick Hildyard of Corner House.
Eni and Shell, together with their managers and other defendants have denied wrongdoing.
Notes to editor:
- Nigerian authorities have also filed charges
against a Shell subsidiary and Eni as well as several of their staff. A trial
is pending against the companies and Mohammed Adoke, the former Nigerian
Minister of Justice and Attorney General who has been charged with money
laundering over his receipt of $2.2m in alleged proceeds of the OPL 245 deal.
Nigerian authorities have said they intend to extradite Mr Adoke. Mr Adoke
denies the charges and claims the money came from a legitimate property deal.
- The Nigerian government recently successfully
recovered US$85m in proceeds of the deal from the UK. The money had previously
been frozen as suspected proceeds of crime at the request of Italian
authorities. The Nigerian government has also issued a billion dollar civil
claim against JP Morgan for their role as a banker to the deal. JP Morgan has
stated that they consider the allegation against them to be “unsubstantiated
and without merit”.
- Goodluck Jonathan’s statement addressing the
allegations against him is available at
- Dan Etete’s response to the public allegations
against him is available at: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/02/08/etete-government-did-not-invest-a-dime-in-malabu-oil/
- Spokespeople for Shell have referred Global
Witness to the company’s statement following the company’s indictment “We are
disappointed by the outcome of the preliminary hearing and the decision to
indict Shell and its former employees.
We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against
Shell or its former employees.”
- Eni has said in a statement on their website
regarding the case that the trial “will give the opportunity to Eni to fully
defend its position and to provide full evidence of the correctness of the
actions taken with respect to the OPL 245 transaction.”
- Regarding the allegations against Eni’s CEO
the company has said: “Eni’s Board of Directors has reaffirmed its confidence
that the company was not involved in alleged corrupt activities in relation to
the transaction. The Board of Directors also confirmed its full confidence that
chief executive Claudio 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.”
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