Malabu Scandal: U.S. Department of Justice closes probe on Eni/Shell involvement due to lack of evidence

THE U.S. Department of Justice, DOJ, on Wednesday, clarified that shutting down the probe into the alleged OPL 245 bribery scandal perpetrated by Italian oil giant Eni due to lack of evidence did not mean the case has been closed according to a Reuters report.

The US legal body hinted that closing the probe was not absolute but the investigation could be re-opened if circumstances surrounding the case changed.

According to the report, a trial attorney for the DOJ said that in light of the “misleading implication” of a lack of evidence highlighted by the prosecutors, he was sending them a copy of the DOJ’s original communication with Eni’s counsel in the United States.

The acting chief of the DOJ’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit in the letter said the inquiries had been closed because Italian authorities were prosecuting the case.

“If the circumstances noted above change, the Department may reopen its inquiries,” he said.

In 2011, the federal government had facilitated the controversial OPL 245 deal for Malabu Oil and Gas which was interested in the oil field.

Shell and Eni also wanted to buy the oil block from the Nigerian company instead of paying the required a signature bonus of $210 million to the federal government, they also paid  another $1.1 billion to buy 100 per cent stake in the oil block from Malabu

They transferred the $1.3 billion to the account of the federal government in London, UK, from where Malabu was paid off its $1.1 billion.

Eni, the biggest foreign oil and gas producer in Africa, is currently on trial in Milan on graft allegations surrounding the 2011 acquisition of OPL 245.

The firm is also involved in a corruption case involving its previously 43 per cent-owned unit Saipem over alleged bribes paid to win contracts in Algeria.

A Milan court acquitted Eni last year but the decision is still subject to appeal.

The DoJ had been conducting its own investigation into the Nigerian and Algerian allegations independently of the Italian court cases.

On Tuesday, Eni issued a statement saying the DoJ had informed its management that the investigation had been closed with no action taken.

Eni issued a second version of the first statement stating that it removed a passage saying the DoJ decision confirmed investigations by independent advisers and Eni’s own controlling bodies that found no illegal activity.

An Eni spokesman said the original statement had contained a translation error and had been replaced as soon as possible. He emphasised that the DoJ’s statement that it could re-open the investigation if circumstances changed was in line with normal procedure.

“If the DoJ would decide to reopen its investigation based on events new and unknown, then Eni will cooperate again with the Department to further demonstrate that Eni and its management are not involved in any illegal conduct,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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