OPL 245: FG Not Relenting, To Continue $3.5bn Claim Against Shell, Eni
Nigeria will continue its $3.5 billion civil claim against Shell Plc and Eni SpA after Italian prosecutors dropped criminal proceedings against the companies, Bloomberg quoted a lawyer representing Africa’s largest crude producer to have said.
The West African country, which joined the case as a civil party in 2018, still plans to appeal the March 2021 ruling by a court in Milan acquitting the energy giants and several of their current and former executives of corruption charges, Olabode Johnson, a lawyer for the Nigerian government told the news agency.
Prosecutors, who said yesterday that they would not challenge the decision, had alleged executives involved in the 2011 deal to acquire an offshore oil permit knew that much of the $1.1 billion paid into an escrow account controlled by the Nigerian government would be disbursed as bribes.
Shell and Eni welcomed the prosecution’s decision.
“We have always maintained that the 2011 settlement was legal and were pleased that the court found in 2021, that there was no case to answer for Shell or its former employees,” a spokeswoman for Shell said by email sent by Bloomberg.
The acquittals have become “full and final,” Eni said in a statement. The case resulted in “serious and unfair reputational damage” for the company and its management, it said.
Nigeria seeks compensation of $3.5 billion because it’s the true value of the license purchased by Shell and Eni, Johnson said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reported that Italian prosecutors dropped criminal proceedings over the oilfield deal, clearing energy majors Eni and Shell as well as managers including Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi.
The Attorney General, Celestina Gravina signalled the prosecution did not plan to pursue the case at the start of an appeal hearing into one of the oil industry’s biggest ever corruption cases.
“This case must finish today because it has no basis, in fact it should have finished earlier,” Gravina told the court.
The Appeal Court formally took note of the decision, meaning the criminal case will be closed and the acquittal of all defendants will become final. The appeal will now only concern civil proceedings, as Nigeria has sued for compensation.
Eni said it was very satisfied that the case had been concluded, describing it as “unmotivated and disconcerting.”
While the General Prosecutor’s Office at the Appeal Court sometimes asks for the acquittal of defendants at the end of an appeal process, legal and judicial sources told Reuters that the decision to withdraw at the start of a trial is unprecedented in Milan.
The Tribunal Prosecutor’s Office, which is a separate body, and the Nigerian government had sought to appeal a March 2021 ruling which had acquitted the two companies and defendants after a three-year trial.
Lucio Lucia, a lawyer representing the Nigerian government, said the decision not to proceed was unusual.
He argued that the lower court had failed to properly assess the documentary proof against the defendants.
The main case revolved around a deal in which Eni and Shell acquired the OPL 245 offshore oilfield in 2011 to settle a long-standing dispute over ownership.
Prosecutors alleged that just under $1.1 billion of the total amount was siphoned off to politicians and middlemen.
The First Instance Court in Milan said in March 2021 there was no case to answer and acquitted the companies and all other defendants. The next hearings for the civil case was scheduled for September.