Italian court acquits Eni, Shell in $1.3b OPL 245 Malabu bribe trial
After nearly three years of legal fireworks following the first trial, a Milan, Italy court on Wednesday acquitted Eni and Shell over a $1.3 billion Oil Prospecting License bribery allegation.
This was even as Royal Dutch Shell said it will continue to defend charges against it in relation to OPL 245 in Nigeria.
In 2011, Shell reached an agreement with the Federal Government of Nigeria and Eni to settle litigation and arbitration dating back nearly a decade related to OPL 245.
This was an unprecedented situation where the Federal Government of Nigeria had separately allocated the same block to two different parties: Shell and Malabu.
The 2011 Resolution Agreement, which was negotiated at the highest levels of the relevant government departments, aimed to resolve the long-standing disputes over the block and enable its development, generating economic activity and revenues that all parties would benefit from.
Unfortunately, the block had remained undeveloped.
Commenting on the judgment, Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell plc, Ben van Beurden, said: “We welcome today’s decision by the Milan tribunal. We have always maintained that the 2011 settlement was legal, designed to resolve a decade-long legal dispute and unlock development of the OPL 245 block.
“At the same time, this has been a difficult learning experience for us. Shell is a company that operates with integrity and we work hard every day to ensure our actions not only follow the letter and spirit of the law, but also live up to society’s wider expectations of us.”
The oil companies had paid $210 million as signature bonus to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
In Nigeria, Mohammed Bello Adoke, who was Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice when the OPL 245 dispute was resolved and Malabu Oil & Gas Limited sold the block to the multinational companies in 2011, has always insisted the transaction was legal and legitimate.
In his memoirs: “Burden of Service: The Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney-General,” published in 2019, Adoke, who had been accused of corruption in the deal by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, vehemently denied taking any bribe: “not even a cup of tea or a slice of cake,” in the OPL 245 deal.