An Italian judge has ordered Royal Dutch Shell and Eni to stand trial over alleged corruption in Nigeria with the CEO of Eni among past and present managers involved, legal sources said on Wednesday.
The case involves the 2011 purchase by Eni and Shell of Nigeria’s OPL-245 offshore oilfield – one of Africa’s most valuable oil blocks – for about $1.3 billion.
Besides the two companies, 13 people including Eni CEO, Claudio Descalzi and former Chairman of the Shell Foundation, Malcolm Brinded were put on trial, the sources said.
Under Italian law a company can be held responsible if it is deemed to have failed to prevent, or attempt to prevent, a crime by an employee that benefited the company.
Shell said it was disappointed by the outcome of the hearing but added it believed the judges would conclude there was no case against the group or its former employees.
“There is no place for bribery or corruption in our company,” it said.
Eni reiterated that the company and its CEO had not been involved in any wrongdoing. It said the board had full confidence in Descalzi who at the time of the deal was head of exploration and production.
The OPL-245 licence was initially awarded in 1998 by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company in which he held shares.
It was then sold to Eni and Shell.
Campaign group Global Witness and others say much of the $1.3 billion in payments for the block did not go to the state but instead went to Etete, who was convicted of money laundering in a 2007 French case related to his time in the Nigerian government.
Shell has previously said it was aware that some of the payments it made to Nigeria for rights to the oilfield would go to Malabu but said the transaction was fully legal.
The trial is due to start on March 5, the sources said.