Africa Oil & Gas: Eni, Shell face Italian courts over alleged corruption in Nigeria

An oil and gas complex off the coast of Nigeria
An oil and gas complex off the coast of Nigeria

Oil companies Eni and Shell are accused of paying million-dollar bribes to obtain a license to operate an oil field in Nigeria. Judgment kicked off yesterday, Monday 14 in Milan, Italy.

At least 15 defendants will sit in the dock at the Milan court in Italy. Most are employees of the oil companies Eni and Shell. Among the accused are also former Nigerian Oil Minister Dan Etete, who is not due to appear in court because of his uncertainty.

The case goes back to 2011, when Eni and Shell allegedly transferred 1 billion euros to a Nigerian Government account.

The two companies will have sought to guarantee the exploitation of an oil field worth 2.5 billion euros. However, most of the payments will not have ended in the Nigerian state’s coffers, but rather in a company called Malabu Oil & Gas, owned by then-Oil Minister Dan Etete.


Nigeria Dan Etete
It is believed that former Minister Dan Etete (right) played a key role in the corruption scandal


Of the 1 billion euros, the prosecution says at least 430 million have been converted into cash to bribe Nigerian politicians. Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan, has also benefited from the scheme.

For Barnaby Pace, head of the research department of the British nongovernmental organization Global Witness, the Milan trial is unprecedented.

“This is not an isolated case, there are a lot of others, but this process shows that the culprits can be held accountable,” he said.

Second trial in Lagos

A second trial with these oil giants will take place mid-June in Lagos, Nigeria, where both Shell and Eni risk losing their operating licenses. It is the human rights group Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) that will take the oil companies to court.

“The trial in Milan is a criminal investigation. Our case in Lagos goes back to the origins of the oil field,” said Lanre Suraju, a spokesman for the group. “The contracts between Malabu, Eni, Shell and the Nigerian state are totally illegal. The owner of Malabu, Etete, can not obtain an operating license as a minister.” The Nigerian government has admitted that there has been corruption, so let’s take this case to court. ”

Eni and Shell deny accusations

In Milan, the Italian prosecutor accuses Eni’s director general, Claudio Descalzi, and other managers of knowing that part of the amount paid would be distributed as bribes. But oil companies deny the allegations.

Independent investigations showed that there was no misappropriation of funds, says Eni. The companies reaffirm that all the payments they made went to the Government. “Eni has not made any deals with Malabu,” said Roberto Albini, a spokesman for the Italian oil company in an interview with DW.

Shell’s position is similar: “We believe there is no basis for condemning Shell and its employees,” company spokeswoman Anna Haslam told DW. “If there is evidence that Malabu or others have made improper payments to former members of the Government, this has happened without Shell’s knowledge or order.”

Unprecedented process

According to British NGO Global Witness, Shell has already admitted to doing business with the former Nigerian minister. A set of confidential e-mails sent to the organization show that senior Shell officials knew that part of the payment would be for Dan Etete. Shell argues, however, that everything was done according to the law.

Barnaby Pace, head of Global Witness, says this trial is an opportunity to get justice.

“This case brings hope for a new phase where the most powerful in the highly corrupt oil industry can also be blamed,” says Pace. “People in Nigeria lose a lot of money from corruption. This amount is more than last year’s health budget in a country where one in ten children dies before the age of five.”source: Deutsche Welle


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