A court in Milan, Italy on Wednesday rules that some former executives of Shell and its partner, ENI, accused of involvement in the oil production lease (OPL) 245 corruption scandal in Nigeria were not guilty after all.
Consequently, the court in its judgment discharged and acquitted all the officials bringing to a close a sordid chapter in the lives of the officials who battled for years trying to prove their innocence of the corruption charges.
Those affected included several former top executives of Shell, including Malcolm Brinded and Paolo Scaroni, as well as ENI’s Claudio Descalzi and other top managers whom the court said they had no case to answer.
Prosecutors had charged the embattled executives of involvement in the controversial Malabu deal in which about $1.1 billion was said to have been deposited in an escrow account belonging to the Nigerian federal government for use in settling bribes over the allocation of the oil concession.
All along, the oil giants and their officials have consistently denied any wrongdoing over the scandal, although two middlemen said to brokered the Malabu deals were found guilty of corruption in a separate trial in 2018.
Details of the controversial Malabu corruption case bordered on the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI, two multinational oil firms operating in Nigeria, through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by its former petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
During the trial, the court heard that a total of about $520 million of the corruption money was withdrawn from the accounts controlled by Etete and transferred to accounts of companies controlled by one Aliyu Abubakar, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA Oil.
Abubakar was suspected to have acted as the go-between some top officials of the then Goodluck Jonathan administration, which approved the transaction in 2011 through some of its ministers and senior officials of Shell and ENI.
The $1.1billion was supposed to have been the payment for the operating license for the OPL 245 considered in oil industry circles to be one of Nigeria’s most prolific oil concessions.
As a result of the controversy, the development of OPL 245 license has been stalled since the case broke out.
In September last year, ENI filed international arbitration proceedings against Nigeria accusing the federal government of breaching its rights by continuing to allow its operation of the license scheduled to expire in May this year.
In his reaction to the ruling, outgoing Shell CEO, Van Beurden, said the company has finally been vindicated as it has all along maintained that the 2011 settlement deal was legal, designed to resolve a decade-long legal dispute to unlock development of the OPL 245 block.
However, Beurden said the outcome of the case at the same time has become a difficult learning experience for the company and all those involved.
On its part, ENI, in its reaction published on its website said welcomed the judgment of full acquittal of all charges and no case against it and its officials after almost three years of trial.
ENI said the judgment by the Court in Milan has finally established that “the company, the CEO Claudio Descalzi and the management involved in the proceedings all behaved in a lawful and correct manner.”
Throughout the trial, ENI maintained its full confidence in the Court’s fair and balanced investigation.
“Today, ENI expresses its gratitude for the trust placed by its stakeholders throughout the course of the trial, particularly in upholding the company’s management and the conduct of its business, and respecting its reputation,” the company said.