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Malabu: FG demands $1.1bn from Eni, Shell

IOC: We’re highly disappointed in prosecutors’ action

Nigeria has asked a Milan Court to order Eni and Royal Dutch Shell to pay $1.092 billion as an immediate advance payment for damages it is claiming in one of the oil industry’s biggest-ever corruption trials. Lawyer for the Nigerian government, Lucio Lucia, yesterday, called for a guilty verdict and an advance payment, ahead of any broader damages package set by a court at a later date, Reuters reported.

At a hearing into alleged corruption linked to Eni and Shell’s 2011 acquisition of the OPL 245 field, Lucia did not specify how much Nigeria was seeking in damages overall, but said the disputed deal had deprived Nigeria of “profit oil”, adding “these are massive amounts.” The lawyer said the profits that had been lost amounted to between $4.5 billion and $5.9 billion.

The long-running bribery case revolves around the purchase of the OPL 245 offshore field, some 150 km off the Niger Delta, for about $1.3 billion from Malabu, a company owned by former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete. Prosecutors alleged that about $1.1 billion was siphoned off to politicians and middlemen, half of it to Etete himself. Shell says the 2011 agreement was a settlement of long-standing litigation, following the previous allocation of the block by the Nigerian government to Shell and Malabu.

Etete, Eni, Shell and the managers accused in the Milan court case, including Eni’s CEO, Claudio Descalzi, have all denied any wrongdoing. In July, prosecutors in the case asked for Eni and Shell to be fined and some of their present and former executives, including Eni’s Descalzi, to be jailed.

They also requested the confiscation of a total of $1.092 billion from all the defendants in the case, the equivalent of the bribes alleged to have been paid. The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for September 21, when the defence is due to present its case. Eni, in a statement yesterday, said that the purchase price for OPL 245 was “congruous and reasonable” considering the value of the field and investment needed to bring it into production. “With regard to the indictment issued today by the Nigerian civil party, Eni is highly disappointed that the prosecutors continue to use as evidence flows of money which occurred after the company paid for the OPL 245 license, in order to support its accusations of corruption against the company.

“Payment for OPL 245 was made directly to the Nigerian government, in a clear, linear and transparent manner using an internationally-renowned bank. Eni was not aware, and was in no way required to be aware, of any flows of funds following its direct payment.

“The civil party wrongfully presents a negotiation between Eni and Shell on one side and Nigerian government representatives on the other as illicit, alleging that the two companies were aware of unlawful intentions of the government representatives.

“Eni maintains that it acted lawfully, dealing with the ministries of a sovereign government, traditionally competent with respect to operations such as these, acting properly in negotiations of this complexity through transversal, complex and proven processes for evaluation and analysis,” the oil firm said. Speaking on the suggestions that the price paid materially undervalues the license, Eni emphasized that the economic offer was congruous and reasonable when considering the value of the OPL245 exploration field and the investments necessary to be able to put it into production. “The final amount paid by Eni to the Nigerian government was agreed by the parties following an in-depth geological, technical and economic examination; it also considers the historical evolution of the Nigerian and international oil markets. Suffice it to consider, for example, that at the end of September 2011 the Brent was valued over $100, while today it is around $40. “Moreover, the transaction price of $1.09 billion, net of the signature bonus, equals the assessment of OPL 245 made by IHS for Shell in its 2009 arbitration against the Federal Government of Nigeria, when the British/Dutch company had no interest whatsoever in underestimating the asset to which it was laying claim,” Eni said.

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