Monday, July 26, 2021

Nigeria sues Shell and Eni over 2011 ‘oil bribes’

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Nigeria is suing Royal Dutch Shell and Eni for $1.1 billion that it claims it missed out on as a result of alleged corruption in a 2011 oil deal.

The country said that it had lodged the claim in the High Court in London against the companies to recoup payments they made for an offshore oil exploration block. It alleges that the oil majors knew that much of the $1.3 billion they had paid to the Nigerian government to secure ownership of the OPL 245 licence ultimately would be paid in bribes. The allegations are already the subject of criminal proceedings in Italy and Nigeria. Both Shell and Eni deny any wrongdoing.

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Shell is an Anglo-Dutch group that employs about 80,000 people in more than 70 countries and generated net profits of $12 billion last year, primarily from producing and selling oil and gas. Eni, of Italy, also has global oil and gas operations. It reported net profits of €2.4 billion last year and employs about 33,000 people.

The OPL 245 oil block is thought to be one of the richest in Africa. Rights to explore it were first awarded in 1998 by Dan Etete, the oil minister at the time, to Malabu, a company with which he had links.

Shell bought an interest in the block in 2001, leading to a decade of wrangling over ownership between Malabu, Shell and the Nigerian government. Shell and Eni, which also wanted access to the block, struck the 2011 deal to pay $1.3 billion to secure ownership and resolve disputes.

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About $1.1 billion of this was then paid by the Nigerian government to Malabu. It is alleged that much of this cash ended up being paid in bribes and kickbacks to figures including Mr Etete and Goodluck Jonathan, the former Nigerian president, both of whom have denied the allegations.

Shell, Eni and several former senior executives of both companies are on trial in Milan over alleged corruption. Shell admitted last year that it “always knew” that payments would be made to Malabu to settle its claims on the block. However, it says that if Malabu was shown to have made improper payments with the cash it received, “it is Shell’s position that none of those payments were made with its knowledge, authorisation or on its behalf”.

Nigeria has already been admitted as a party to the Milan case, which could enable it to seek damages there. Nigeria said that the alleged “fraudulent and corrupt scheme” had “diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from the people of Nigeria”.

Tom Hibbert, of RPC solicitors, representing Nigeria, said: “This claim reflects the determination and ongoing efforts of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to recover the very significant sums lost to corruption and the unlawful activity of Shell and Eni.”

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A Shell spokeswoman said that it maintained that the 2011 deal had been “a fully legal transaction with Eni and the Federal Government of Nigeria, represented by the most senior officials of the relevant ministries . . . We do not believe that there is a case to answer.”

An Eni spokeswoman said that it confirmed “the correctness and compliance of every aspect of the transaction in respect of OPL 245 concluded in 2011” and rejected “any allegation of impropriety or irregularity in connection with this transaction”. It said that the money it paid in 2011 had been paid “directly to the Nigerian government”.

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