Italian prosecutors are seeking a ten-year prison sentence for Nigeria’s former petroleum minister, Dan Etete, over an allegedly corrupt Nigerian oil block deal.
According to SaharaReporters, the prosecutors requested this in their closing arguments in Milan in what has been described as one of the most prominent corruption cases in the oil industry’s history.
The prosecutors are also requesting an eight-year prison sentence for the chief executive of Eni, Claudio Descalzi, and Paolo Scaroni, his predecessor.
They alleged that nearly all of the $1.3bn that Shell and Eni paid in 2011 for the OPL 245 offshore oil block went towards bribes for businessmen, intermediaries and Nigerian officials, particularly Dan Etete, Nigeria’s former oil minister, who owned the block.
Prosecutors are also seeking an 88-month sentence for Shell’s former head of exploration and production, Malcolm Brinded.
In his closing argument of the two-year trial, prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale cited emails and testimony that he said proved that Shell, Eni and some of their most senior executives knew that most of the money they paid for OPL 245 went towards bribes, Financial Times reports.
The oil companies deny any wrongdoing in the case, which allegedly involved payouts to several Nigerian oil ministers and attorneys-general with the knowledge of senior executives, including Mr Descalzi. All the officials and executives have denied the allegations.
The OPL 245 saga began in 1998, when Mr Etete, then petroleum minister, awarded his own company, Malabu, the licence for the field. Years of legal wrangling between Shell and Malabu ensued, as the block was granted and revoked to one and then the other by successive governments.
The 2011 deal was aimed at settling the disputed ownership of OPL 245 but instead led, in part because of a complaint by the London-based campaigning group Global Witness, to the bribery probe in Milan and investigations in the US, UK and the Netherlands.
The Nigerian government had argued that it was the victim of serious fraud, though the companies continue to operate in the West African country.
Shell and Eni contend that it was a legitimate deal sanctioned by the federal government and that they had no role or knowledge of what would happen to the money afterwards.
Shell said the company did “not believe that there is a basis to convict Shell or any of its former employees in Milan”.
Eni said it considered the requests for conviction of the company’s former and current executives “completely groundless”. The companies are due to present their defence in September.
Despite the trial in Milan, Mr Descalzi, who was at the time of the 2011 OPL 245 deal the head of the oil exploration for Eni, was reappointed to his post as chief executive in May. Prosecutors are seeking fines of €900,000 each against the 13 individual defendants in the case and the companies.
“For sure, I don’t feel guilty,” said Mr Descalzi to the Financial Times in an interview this year. “I’m calm and clear in my mind. I know what Eni did and what I did . . . there is no point to this issue.”
In a separate case in the UK, Nigeria is suing JPMorgan Chase, alleging that the bank facilitated the misappropriation of $845m in state funds related to OPL 245 via transfers from Malabu accounts. The bank denies any wrongdoing.
Next hearing has been fixed for September 9.
KanyiDaily recalls that 6 months ago, the FCT High Court had ordered the arrest of Dan Etete over his alleged involvement in the fraudulent Malabu Oil deal.