An Italian judge, Giusy Barbara, found out on Monday that Eni and Royal Dutch Shell were fully aware that their 2011 purchase of Nigeria’s Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL 245) would result in corrupt payments to Nigerian politicians and officials.
Italy’s Eni and Shell bought the OPL 245 offshore field for about 1.3 billion dollars from Malabu Oil and Gas Limited owned by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mr. Dan Etete, in a deal that spawned one of the oil industry’s largest corruption scandals.
It was alleged that about $1.1 billion of the money paid for the oil block was siphoned to agents and middlemen.
The Milan judge made the comment in her written reasons for the September conviction of a Nigerian, Mr. Emeka Obi and Italian, Gianluca Di Nardo, both middlemen in the OPL 245 deal, for corruption.
They were jailed for four years.
“The management of oil companies Eni and Shell were fully aware of the fact that part of the $1.092 billion paid would have been used to compensate Nigerian public officials who had a role in this matter and who were circling their prey like hungry sharks,” Barbara said in her reasoning.
“It was not mere connivance, but a conscious adhesion to a predatory project damaging the Nigerian state,” she added.
She also said money was given to some Eni managers.
Obi and Di Nardo have been tried separately from Eni and Shell, which also face corruption allegations over the same deal in a hearing that is expected to drag on for months.
But responding to the judge’s remarks, Eni said it would analyse the remarks, noting that a fuller account of the facts and evidence surrounding the deal would emerge only from the main trial.
The Italian company has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Eni shares fell slightly on the judge’s remarks but quickly recovered ground. Shell stock was barely changed.
Under the deal, Eni and Shell jointly acquired the OPL 245 field from a company owned by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete who, the judge noted, had been put under investigation in 2003 in France for alleged money-laundering.
Shell also said yesterday that neither Obi nor Di Nardo had worked for it, and that there was no basis to convict it or any of its former staff of alleged offences related to the oil deal.
Eni Chief Executive, Claudio Descalzi, and four ex-Shell managers, including former Shell’s Head of Upstream, Malcolm Brinded, are also accused of international corruption in the main trial.
They have all denied any wrongdoing.
Brinded’s lawyer referred Reuters’ requests for comment to Shell.
In her explanation, judge Barbara alleged that Shell executives, including Brinded, had known that Etete would keep a part of the purchase price for himself and use the rest to “pay people,” including Nigerian politicians and public officials who had helped him to take possession of the field in 1998.