Shell and Eni Acquitted in Nigerian Offshore E&P Corruption Case

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Published Mar 18, 2021 2:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

A court in Milan has acquitted oil majors Eni and Royal Dutch Shell of wrongdoing in a corruption case centered on a Nigerian offshore oil field. 

The origins of the case go back ten years. In 2011, Shell and Eni settled a complex exploration lease dispute involving block OPL 245, paying the Nigerian government $1.3 billion via an escrow account overseen by J.P. Morgan Chase. The Nigerian government then transferred $875 billion of the funds to the leaseholder's previous owner, a company controlled by former Nigerian oil minister and convicted money launderer Dan Etete. The government of Nigeria has filed suit against J.P. Morgan for executing the transfer, alleging negligence.

In early 2018, Italian prosecutors brought charges against Shell, Eni, and Eni's then-COO of E&P and current CEO Claudio Descalzi, along with about two dozen other executives. The suit alleged that Shell, Eni and the named individuals were aware that a substantial share of the funds paid to Nigeria to settle the OPL 245 dispute would be used for purposes of bribery. 

Two alleged middlemen, Nigerian national Emeka Obi and Italian national Gianluca Di Nardo, were found guilty of corruption by an Italian court in late 2018. "[Shell and Eni] were fully aware of the fact that part of the [funds] 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,” Judge Giusy Barbara asserted in her decision on the middlemen's case. 

On Wednesday, a Milan court reached a different conclusion in the separate case against Shell and Eni, finding that the firms and the named executives were not guilty. The full text of the decision is expected in 90 days, and prosecutors may choose to appeal. 

Dutch prosecutors are still investigating Shell's role in the OPL 245 case, and Nigerian authorities have brought charges against Shell and Eni's local subsidiaries. Etete faces criminal charges of corruption in Nigeria, and he is still at large at an undisclosed location. 

As for OPL 235, Nigeria has not issued a permit for its development, and it has yet to yield oil.