Former Minister Dan Etete, the man behind Malabu (image by Nigeria Premium Times)

Milan prosecutors have asked for Italy’s Eni, its CEO Claudio Descalzi, Anglo-Dutch major Shell and ten individuals to be tried for alleged payment of bribes in connection with the oil-rich Nigerian OPL 245 offshore licence.

The indictment alleges that $1.3bn of bribes were paid to senior Nigerian politicians – of which $1.092bn by Eni and a further $200mn by Shell – according to La Repubblica and other Italian media; one of the ten individuals indicted was Descalzi’s predecessor, Paolo Scaroni.

An investigation has rumbled on in Nigeria for a while and led to a federal court there last month taking back OPL 245 from Eni and Shell.

The block was allocated for just $20mn in 1998 to Malabu Oil & Gas, reportedly owned by then oil minister Dan Etete, according to anti-corruption campaign group Global Witness.

The group said OPL 245 was transferred to Eni and Shell in 2011 which paid over $1bn that allegedly flowed to Malabu, a company owned by Etete, rather than to the Nigerian state. Recent charges in Nigeria focused on an alleged transfer of $801mn from the deal into accounts controlled by Etete, with ex-justice minister Mohammed Adoke acting as intermediary, said Global Witness.

Eni on February 8 said its board “with regard … to the request for trial by Milan prosecutors relating to the 2011 acquisition of a stake in OPL 245 in Nigeria [and] following an in-depth legal analysis, confirms its total confidence that Eni is entirely free of any involvement in the alleged corrupt conduct subject to investigation” and “its total confidence that CEO, Claudio Descalzi, was not involved in any way in the conduct under investigation, and maintains their upmost support for him as CEO.”

Shell has declined to make any comment.

Anti-corruption campaigners say the OPL 245 case shows why international transparency rules, now challenged by the Republican-led US Senate, are so important.

Descalzi, who was Eni’s upstream chief from 2008 until his appointment as CEO in 2014, was never indicted in an earlier scandal over bribes paid by Eni ex-subsidiary Saipem that engulfed Scaroni.(source: Mark Smedley at Natural Gas World)

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