OPL 245: Nigeria demands $1.1b advance payment from Shell, ENI, for damages

THE Nigerian Government on Wednesday asked a Milan court to compel oil multinationals, Royal Dutch Shell and ENI to make an immediate payment of $1.09 billion for damages incurred by the country, in one of the oil industry biggest corruption scandals.

At the virtual hearing in Milan where Nigeria presented its concluding arguments which were live-tweeted by Barnaby Pace, a British investigative journalist, Lucio Lucia, the lawyer representing Nigeria in the alleged corrupt acquisition of OPL 245 solicited for an advance payment ahead of the broader damages payment to be determined by the court next week.

Lucia described how Eni and Shell took a huge reputational risk in dealing with Dan Etete, a convicted money launderer, and his company Malabu Oil and Gas, a company which was set up six days prior to the completion of the oil deal without the conclusion of its due diligence team.

“Shell and Eni’s illicit profits from the OPL 245 deal are certainly higher than the $1.1 billion they paid and the harm to Nigeria is also certainly higher, but for now Nigeria asks that $1.1 billion is set as the minimum benefit the companies received,” he said.

He stated that the request was a provisional amount for damages, pending when a civil court would set the final amount in the event of a conviction.

“Nigeria, therefore, asks to receive a minimum of $1.1 billion in damages from Shell, Eni and the other defendants if convicted for their role in the OPL 245 deal. In addition, the UN Convention Against Corruption allows for assets to be returned to Nigeria by Italy,” he stated.

The long-running scandal revolves around the transfer of about $1.1 billion by oil multinationals, Shell and ENI, through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by Dan Etete, a former Nigerian oil minister.

From accounts controlled by  Etete, about half the money estimated at $520 million went to the accounts of companies jointly controlled by Abubakar Aliyu, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil, and Etete.

    The transaction was authorised in 2011 by for Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers, and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.

    Although Shell and ENI initially claimed they did not know the money would end up with Etete and his cronies, evidence has shown that claim to be false, though, Shell later admitted it did know the money would go to Etete.

    Shell, Eni, Etete, Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are currently being prosecuted in Italy for their roles in the scandal.

    The next hearing was slated for September 21, with concluding arguments from Vincenzo Armanna, one of the defendants, who was also a former ENI lawyer who gave evidence against his former employers.

    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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