Senior Royal Dutch Shell executives have been charged in Italy for their role in a vast bribery scheme that deprived the Nigerian people of over a billion dollars, the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on Friday. Those facing trial include Malcolm Brinded CBE, the second most powerful person in the company when the deal was struck (1). Shell itself is also facing bribery charges alongside the four named individuals.
This historic decision follows a dramatic U-turn in which it admitted that it knew its billion dollar payment would go to convicted money-launderer and former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, in exchange for Nigerian oil block OPL 245 in 2011.
“This could be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, and a watershed moment for the oil industry. The top brass of the UK’s largest company is in the dock after it finally admitted dealing with a convicted money launderer. There can be no clearer sign that wholesale change is needed. Shell must first apologise to the Nigerian people, then take clear steps to reassure investors and the broader public that this won’t happen again,” said Barnaby Pace of Global Witness.
In April, Global Witness and Finance Uncovered revealed that Shell executives knew that $1.1bn they paid for OPL 245 would go to Dan Etete and were likely to be used in a vast bribery scheme. For years, Shell has claimed that it only paid the Nigerian Government. But after our investigations Shell shifted this position and acknowledged it had dealt with Etete, via his front company Malabu. Dan Etete was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. Etete had awarded his own company the OPL 245 oil block while oil minister during the rule of former dictator Sani Abacha.
In December, the Milan Public Prosecutor alleged 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.
Now, Italian authorities have brought bribery charges against Malcolm Brinded, then Head of Upstream, alongside three others (2). According to the Shell Foundation, Brinded has stepped down from his role as Chairman of the Board of Trustees due to the legal action in Italy. Brinded remains a trustee of the Foundation as well as retained positions as Chair of Engineering UK and President of the Energy Institute.
In September 2017 BHP Billiton announced that Malcolm Brinded will not return to the BHP Billiton board due to judicial inquiries over the OPL 245 deal. In 2002, Brinded was awarded the CBE for services to the U.K. Oil and Gas Industry. These individual charges are in addition to existing charges brought against Shell, Italian oil major Eni, Eni’s CEO, former CEO and Chief Operations Officer, middlemen and several Nigerian officials.
“Shell’s current CEO Ben van Beurden has described the emails we leaked as “pub talk”, but most pub chats don’t end up in criminal proceedings. Mr van Beurden has had four years as CEO to address a scandal that now threatens to engulf his company, but has done next to nothing. He should draw a line under the case by admitting the company’s guilt, removing Mr Brinded from his position, and setting out his plan for overhauling the company’s anti-bribery efforts for the future,” said Pace.
“These charges are a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual for oil companies in Nigeria. It’s now time for the Dutch and British authorities to follow Italy’s lead and hold their biggest company to account,” said Olanrewaju Suraju, of Human and Environmental Development Agenda of Nigeria.
Notes to editor:
1. Malcolm Brinded CBE is the former Executive Director for Upstream International.
2. The others charged are Peter Robinson, former Vice president for Shell’s sub-Saharan Africa operations and Guy Colegate and John Copleston, former Shell employees and ex-MI6 agents
3. In 2011, Shell and Italian oil giant Eni paid $1.1 billion for an oil block, knowing the money would go to a front company secretly owned by a notorious former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, who had been convicted for money-laundering. Etete had awarded himself the block while in office under the former military dictator Sani Abacha, via Malabu Oil and Gas, a company he secretly owned.
4. Shell’s annual reports have given scant details about the OPL 245 deal, despite the oil block’s huge potential. But with nine billion barrels of “probable reserves,” the block could increase Shell’s global “proven oil reserves” – a key figure for shareholders - by a third.
5. In December 2016 money laundering charges were filed by Nigerian law enforcement against Dan Etete and the former Nigerian Attorney General and Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke. In a statement in December 2016, Mohammed Adoke said: “I hope to at the appropriate time make myself available to defend the charge for whatever its worth.” He also emphasised that he did not benefit from the deal, which he said saved the government from a breach of contract suit in which Shell was claiming $2 billion. He called the charges "orchestrated plans to bring me to public disrepute in order to satisfy the whims and caprices of some powerful interests on revenge mission." The full statement from Mohammed Adoke is available at http://thenationonlineng.net/malabu-will-come-defend-adoke/
6. Goodluck Jonathan’s full statement is available at http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/220059-breaking-malabu-oil-deal-jonathan-breaks-silence-bribe-allegation.html
7. Eni has issued several press releases on the OPL 245 deal, available at https://www.eni.com/en_IT/media/2017/02/eni-further-forensic-investigations-confirm-no-illegal-conduct-in-acquisition-of-opl-245-licence
8. Dan Etete’s response is available at: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/02/08/etete-government-did-not-invest-a-dime-in-malabu-oil/
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