A Milan court has reportedly acquitted Royal Dutch Shell, Eni, and its chief executive in one of the biggest corruption case of the oil industry, which revolved around the decade old $1.3 billion acquisition of an oilfield in Nigeria.
According to reports, the ruling, which was read out by judge Marco Tremolada during the court session, came out over three years after the case first started and after more than 74 hearings. Judge Tremolada stated that both the companies as well as the defendants have been acquitted of the charges as there was no case that needed to be answered.
The government of Nigeria, commenting on the Italian court’s ruling stated that it was greatly surprised and as well as disappointed by the Milan court’s verdict and is contemplating whether to file an appeal once its own lawyers have thoroughly read Judge Tremolada’s written judgment.
For the record, court rulings across Italy could be appealed and can only become enforceable after they become final. Judge Tremolada stated that the judges would be utilizing the complete 90-day period permitted by Italian law to compile the written judgement.
For the uninitiated, the long-running corruption case involved around supposed a deal where Shell and Eni acquired the Nigerian OPL 245 offshore oilfield. As part of a 2011 deal, Malabu Oil and Gas, which is owned by Dan Etete, Nigeria’s former oil minister, handed the OPL 245 oilfield back to the country of Nigeria while both Shell as well as Eni paid the government of Nigeria $1.3 billion in parallel to settle an old dispute over ownership of the oilfield.
Several prosecutors alleged that approximately $1.1 billion of the settlement amount was siphoned off to middlemen and politicians, including Etete, who is a convicted money launderer. Etete had acquired the oilfield back in 1998 when he was serving as the country’s oil minister under Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s then military ruler.