A UK Court has dismissed Nigeria’s $1b suit against Shell and Eni, on ground that the court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the claim. It was reported that Barnaby Pace, a journalist and oil campaigner, who monitored the sitting said Nigeria was also denied permission to appeal against the judgment. In his written decision, the judge, Mr. Christopher Butcher, said the English case has both the same essential facts and parties as a parallel proceeding in Italy also brought by the Nigerian government over the Malabu deal. Shell and Eni had seek to stop Nigeria in $1 billion UK lawsuit.
The two oil giants have asked court to decline jurisdiction under article 29 of the recast Brussels Regulation, as the Italian case against the companies is still ongoing. The judge’s ruling was based on an understanding that a case before the Italian judiciary on the same matter is ongoing, engaging the same parties and involving very similar facts. As a result, a London hearing would duplicate these actions. European Union (EU) Regulation 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the European Council of 12 December, 2012 is designed to guide determination of jurisdiction in member states and also the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.
Justice Butcher noted that allowing jurisdiction would duplicate the ongoing criminal trial and parallel civil claim being brought by Nigeria in Italy over events leading up to the acquisition of OPL 245 from Nigerian independent Malabu Oil & Gas, controversially associated with former Nigerian Minister for Petroleum Resources, Chief Dan Etete. The government of Nigeria asked the court in March to postpone hearings until January 2021 to allow time for the concurrent case in Milan, Italy, to conclude, but was rebuffed. Shell, Eni and all the Nigerian officials alleged to have been involved in graft have all denied malfeasance. It is not yet clear whether Justice Butcher’s decision will be appealed.
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by Etete. From accounts controlled by Etete, about half the money ($520 million) went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil. Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks. Although Shell and ENI initially claimed they did not know the money would end up with Etete and his cronies, evidence has shown that claim to be false. Shell, Eni, Mr Etete, Mr Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are being prosecuted in Italy for their roles in the scandal.