The Royal Dutch Shell and Eni, along with a number of their senior executives, on Monday faced criminal charges in Milan, Italy, for alleged aggravated international corruption for their role in a $1.1bn deal for a Malabu Oil’s OPL 245.
This was made known in a statement yesterday by the international corruption watchdog, the Global Witness.
It noted that no company as large as Royal Dutch Shell or senior executives of a major oil company had ever stood trial for bribery offences.
Eni’s Chief Executive Officer, Claudio Descalzi; former CEO, Paolo Scaroni; and Chief Operations and Technology Officer, Roberto Casula, are also standing trial alongside four former Shell staff, including Malcolm Brinded, former Executive Director for Shell’s Upstream International Operations and two former MI6 agents employed by Shell.
“The prosecution by the Milan public prosecutor was triggered by a complaint filed in autumn 2013 by Global Witness, The Corner House, Re: Common and Nigerian anti-corruption campaigner, Dotun Oloko. The case had also been investigated in Nigeria and the United States following the groups’ complaints. Public prosecutors in the Netherlands are also investigating the case,” the statement said.
Speaking about the coming landmark trial, Barnaby Pace of the Global Witness said: “This trial should signal a turning point in the way the oil industry has operated for far too long. Some of the most senior executives of two of the biggest companies in the world could face prison sentences for a deal struck under their watch. Shell has recently accused one of these former executives of taking kickbacks in a separate Nigerian deal.”
Speaking on the latest development, the Chairman Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA) Lanre Suraju, said: “This trial is a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual for oil companies in Nigeria. It’s time justice is served.”
Casula, who will also stand trial in Milan over the OPL 245 case, took a leave of absence from the company in April. He had told Reuters that because of the recent allegations made against him, he had decided to take a temporary leave of absence from work.
“My primary objective is to fully and promptly address these allegations and cooperate to the fullest extent with the judicial authorities,” he had stated.
For years, Shell had claimed that it only paid the Nigerian government for the OPL 245. But after the joint investigations of Global Witness and the United Kingdom investigative journalism group, Finance Uncovered, Shell confessed it had dealings with “convicted money launderer and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dan Etete”.
Global Witness claimed that Etete had awarded the OPL 245 oil block to his secretly owned company, Malabu, while serving as oil minister.
The case against Eni and Shell brought by the Milan public prosecutor alleged that $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to the then Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials.
The prosecutor further alleged that money was also channeled to Eni and Shell executives with $50 million in cash delivered to the home of Eni’s then Head of Business for Sub-Saharan Africa, Casula.
“This is not a case involving a few rotten apples. The evidence points to systemic corruption – from the top down. In this case, Italy has championed the rule of law over abusive corporate power,” Nick Hildyard of Corner House said in the statement.
The statement added: “Spokespeople for Shell have referred Global Witness to the company’s statement following the company’s indictment, ‘We are disappointed by the outcome of the preliminary hearing and the decision to indict Shell and its former employees. We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees’.”
Meanwhile, Eni has said in a statement on its website regarding the case that the trial “will give the opportunity to Eni to fully defend its position and to provide full evidence of the correctness of the actions taken with respect to the OPL 245 transaction.”
Regarding the allegations against Eni’s CEO, the company said: “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 Board of Directors also confirmed its full confidence that chief executive Claudio Descalzi was not involved in the alleged illegal conduct and, more broadly, in his role as head of the company. Eni expresses its full confidence in the judicial process and that the trial will ascertain and confirm the correctness and integrity of its conduct.”
On March 28, 2018, a Shell statement sent to Global Witness had said: “Shell filed a criminal complaint with the Dutch authorities because we suspect a crime may have been committed against Shell by a former employee in relation to the sale of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 42 in Nigeria in 2011. Based on what we know from an internal investigation, we suspect this is a case of possible kickbacks, related to the actions of a former employee who left Shell more than three years ago. The individual in question is Peter Robinson, then VP Commercial Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Shell also had added “that based on what we know today, the OML 42 issue is unrelated to the OPL 245 settlement.”