Italian oil giants and Royal Dutch Shell may have been tacitly indicted of complicity in the controversial sale of OPL 245, as an Italian judge, Giusy Barbara, found on Monday that they were fully aware that their 2011 purchase of rich oil field would result in corrupt payments to Nigerian politicians and officials.
The two oil companies bought the OPL 245 offshore field for about $1.3 billion from Malabu Oil and Gas Limited owned by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mr. Dan Etete, leading to one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s oil industry.
There have been allegations that about $1.1 billion of the money paid for the oil block was siphoned to agents and middlemen.
The 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 sentenced to four years in jail.
“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.
“It was not mere connivance, but a conscious adhesion to a predatory project damaging the Nigerian state,” Judge Barbara said.
She also added that money was given to some Eni managers.
But in a swift response, 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.
Eni, which had earlier denied any wrongdoing, had its shares fall slightly on the judge’s remarks but quickly recovered ground. Shell stock was barely changed.
Judge Barbara alleged that Shell executives 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.