A court in Milan on Wednesday cleared oil titans Shell and Italy’s Eni of corruption charges in a $1.1 billion bribery case involving control of a profitable Nigerian oil block.
In inclusion to the companies, Eni’s current CEO his forebear and a former Nigerian oil minister were among 13 defendants discharged after a three-year trial involving the 2011 acquisition of the OPL 245 offshore oil field.
Non-governmental organizations and activists showed outrage at the decision and called on Milan prosecutors to appeal. The court has 90 days to announce its argument.
“This judgment must not mark a return to business as usual,’’ Global Witness senior campaigner Barnaby Pace said in a statement. “It is no exoneration for either company, nor the industry as a whole who continue to put our world at risk and cut short the lives of its dwellers with their toxic practices.”
Milan’s prosecutors maintained that $520 million of the $1.1 billion paid into an escrow account for the purchase was converted into cash and disbursed as bribes, while several hundred million more went to a former oil minister.
Both Anglo-Dutch Shell and Eni, which is 30% owned by the Italian state, denied any malpractice.
Eni welcomed the decision, saying in a statement that the court “has finally started that the company, the CEO Claudio Descalzi and the board involved in the proceedings have all acted in a lawful and correct manner.”
Along with Descalzi, predecessor Paolo Scaroni and the former Nigerian minister, the Milan court vindicated two former top Shell officials and a series of mediators and advisers.
Defense lawyers argued that Eni and Shell had not paid bribes but to obtain a license for the oil block and that all discussions remained on a technical-economic level.