Milan, Italy : A judge in Milan has ordered global oil giants, Eni and Shell to stand trial in Italy in proceedings to begin March 5 – over allegations of bribery and corruption in the 2011 purchase in Nigeria of an offshore oil block.
Both companies are charged with corruption in Nigeria over the deal, which allegedly saw Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Jonathan and his oil minister pocket bribes.
Both have repeatedly maintained that they acquired the rights to the lucrative block in line with Nigerian law.
The trial in Italy is expected to start in March next year. It follows a lengthy investigation by Italian prosecutors.
Anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness says it could be one of the biggest corporate corruption trials in history.
The companies are also facing charges in Nigeria over the case, which concerns Nigeria’s OPL-245 – an offshore oilfield estimated to hold 9bn barrels of crude oil – secured by Shell and Eni in 2011.
The allegation is that a large part of the $1.3bn payment went not to the Nigerian state but to Nigerian politicians as a bribe.
Emails sent between Shell management, which were released by Global Witness in April, suggest Shell was aware the money would end up in the pockets of Nigerian politicians.
As well as the two corporations, key individuals in the companies are facing charges including Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi and former Shell executive Malcolm Brinded.
The prosecution claim that the oil companies used a Nigerian middleman, a former oil minister Dan Etete, to pay the bribe.
Mr Etete will also go on trial.
“Eni’s Board of Directors has reaffirmed its confidence that the company was not involved in alleged corrupt activities in relation to the transaction,” the Italian firm said in a statement Wednesday.
“Eni expresses its full confidence in the judicial process and that the trial will ascertain and confirm the correctness and integrity of its conduct,” it said.
It insisted in particular that “chief executive Claudio Descalzi was not involved in the alleged illegal conduct”.
A Shell statement said it was confident that nothing illegal had occurred, adding: “We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees.”