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Italian court acquits Eni, Shell in Nigeria corruption case

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An Italian court on Wednesday cleared energy giants Eni and Shell of $1.1-billion (920-million-euro) corruption charges related to an oil exploration deal in Nigeria.

Judges in Milan acquitted Eni, Shell and 13 defendants, including Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi and his predecessor Paolo Scaroni, a spokesman for Eni said.

The verdict “finally restores Claudio Descalzi’s professional reputation and Eni’s standing as a large company”, the manager’s lawyer Paola Severino was quoted as saying by ANSA news agency.

In 2011, Eni and Shell paid $1.3 billion dollars for a licence on OPL 245, a giant offshore oilfield in Nigeria estimated to hold nine billion barrels of crude.

The money was paid into a Nigerian government bank account in London, but Italian prosecutors believe that $1.1 billion ended up lining the pockets of Nigerian politicians and middlemen, including former oil minister Dan Etete.

Prosecutors argued that Eni and Shell knew that most of the money would have gone into bribes, but the two companies strongly denied this.

Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, welcomed the ruling, saying: “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.”

Earlier this week, Eni said it and Shell would end up as losers from the OPL 245 deal, since the Nigerian government never gave them production rights to start extracting oil.

“The benefits never materialised, Eni and Shell invested $2.5 billion and their licence will expire in May. So the truth is that the two companies are the damaged parties in this affair,” an Eni spokesman told AFP.

The Italian trial against Eni and Shell started in 2018, five years after three anti-corruption NGOs brought a complaint before the Milan prosecutors office.

One of the NGOs, Global Witness, called the verdict “a disappointment”, but insisted that it would “not mark the final word in this scandal for Shell and Eni”.

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