Nigeria has filed a $1.1bn legal claim against international energy majors Royal Dutch Shell and Eni in London on Thursday, linked to a controversial 2011 deal for an oil licence.
The undeveloped deepwater plot, named OPL 245, is already at the centre of a Milan corruption trial where prosecutors have alleged bribes of $1.1bn out of a $1.3bn deal were paid to public officials for the plot.The filing, in the commercial division of the High Court and seen by the Financial Times, alleges 14 defendants — including Shell, Eni and its Nigerian subsidiaries — “participated in a fraudulent and corrupt scheme” leading to the acquisition of the licence.Lawyers representing the Nigerian government said in a statement the claim reflects the determination of the state to “recover the very significant sums lost to corruption and the unlawful activity of Shell and Eni in this transaction.”The 2011 deal where Shell and Eni each received 50 per cent of OPL 245 aimed to put an end to years of wrangling over its ownership, but has since ensnared the energy majors in corruption investigations.Nigerian governments for years tossed the licence back and forth between Shell and Malabu, a domestic oil company backed by businessman Dan Etete who first awarded it rights in 1998 when he was also petroleum minister.Italian prosecutors allege Shell and Eni approved a deal to pay the government while knowing money would be funnelled to entities controlled by Mr Etete, who has denied any wrongdoing, who then paid off Nigerian officials.A statement issued on behalf of the Nigerian state said that money used for the deal was allegedly “paid through to a company controlled by Dan Etete . . . and used for, amongst other things, bribes and kickbacks.”“Accordingly, it is alleged that Shell and Eni engaged in bribery and unlawful conspiracy to harm the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that they dishonestly assisted corrupt Nigerian government officials to breach fiduciary duties,” it added.Shell and Eni say their transaction with the federal government was legal, adding the payment was made to the state and they had no part to play in what happened to the money afterwards.Shell said: “Based on our review of the prosecutor of Milan’s file and all of the information and facts available to us, we do not believe that there is a case to answer in this matter,” the company added.Eni said it “continues to reject any allegation of impropriety or irregularity in connection with this transaction”The Nigerian attorney-general’s office did not respond to requests for comment.The Nigerian government has filed a separate lawsuit in London against US bank JPMorgan for its part in transferring more than $800m of the government funds to Mr Etete. JPMorgan has said the allegations are “without merit”.Managers and middlemen related to the deal are also standing trial in Milan. In September, a judge found two defendants — Nigerian Emeka Obi and Italian Gianluca Di Nardo — guilty of international corruption.Mr Etete’s lawyer in Milan said: “We doubt that the legal suit in London could come to a positive end because the same damage cannot be claimed first in Italy, then in the UK”.