Payment for Nigerian oil block transparent, says Eni

Eni, an Italian oil major, said on Wednesday that payment for the Nigerian offshore oil block, Oil Prospecting Licence 245, acquired by it and Shell was made directly to the Federal Government through transparent means.

Eni and Shell jointly acquired the rights to a Nigerian offshore oil block, Oil Prospecting Licence 245, for about $1.3bn but the deal had spawned legal cases spanning several countries.

The OPL 245 is one of the biggest sources of untapped oil reserves on the African continent with reserves estimated at nine billion barrels.

Italian prosecutors, on Tuesday, asked for Shell and Eni to be fined and some of their present and former executives, including Eni Chief Executive Officer, Claudio Descalzi, to be jailed in a long-running trial over alleged corruption in Nigeria.

But Eni said on Wednesday that it considered that the public prosecutor’s requests for conviction of the company, its former and current CEOs and the managers involved in the OPL 245 proceeding were completely groundless.

The company said this in a statement titled ‘Nigeria case, Eni: Public prosecutor’s requests for conviction are completely groundless.’

It said, “During its indictment, in the absence of any evidence or tangible reference to the contents of the trial investigation, the public prosecutor has told a story based on suggestions and deductions as already developed during the investigation.

“This narrative ignores both the witnesses and the files presented within the two years long and more than 40 hearings proceedings that have decisively denied the prosecutorial hypothesis.”

According to the statement, defence lawyers are going to show to the court that both Eni and its management’s conducts were correct in the OPL 245 transaction.

It said, “Eni and Shell paid a reasonable price for the licence directly to the Nigerian government, as contractually agreed and through transparent and linear means.

“Furthermore, Eni neither knew nor should have been aware of the possible destination of the money subsequently paid by the Nigerian government to Malabu. Moreover, the payment was made after an inquiry carried on by the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.

“So, there can therefore be no bribes from Eni in Nigeria, no existence of an Eni scandal. Eni recalls the decision of the Department of Justice and the US SEC, which decided to close its own investigations without taking any action against the company.”

The company said the multiple internal investigations entrusted to international third parties by its supervisory bodies had long since highlighted the absence of unlawful conduct.

“Eni trusts that the truth can finally be re-established following the defensive arguments that will be presented at the end of September, pending the Milan Court’s forthcoming verdict,” it added.

In a Milan court, prosecutors asked on Tuesday for eight years in prison for Descalzi and seven years and four months for Shell’s former Head of Upstream, Malcolm Brinded, according to Reuters.

The prosecutors also asked for Eni and Shell to be fined 900,000 euros ($1.04m) each and sought to confiscate a total of $1.09bn from all the defendants in the case, the equivalent of the bribes alleged to have been paid.

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