OPL 245: Campaigners welcome appeals against acquittal of Shell, Eni, others



(Press Statement) Anti-corruption groups HEDA, Re:Common and Corner House have welcomed the appeals lodged by the Milan Prosecutor and the Federal Republic of Nigeria against the acquittal of Shell, Eni and 13 other defendants for alleged corruption in the acquisition of the giant OPL 245 oil field in Nigeria.

The defendants, who all denied the charges, were accused of paying $1.1 billion in bribes to Nigerian politicians and kickbacks to company executives. In March 2021, after a trial lasting two years, a court in Milan dismissed all the charges on the grounds that there was no case to answer. Although the Milan judges hypothesize that corrupt dealings may have taken place, they argue that the oil companies and other defendants were not involved and that any illegality was a matter for the Nigerian, not Italian, courts. [1]

The appeals by the Milan Prosecutor and the FRN were reported yesterday by Italian newspaper Il Fatto [2]. The newspaper quotes the Milan Prosecutor as describing the acquittal judgment as “thin and illogical”.

Shell [3] and Eni [4] responded to the news by saying they would study the reasons for the appeals and denying any illegality on their part.

“Our own analysis suggests that the Milan judgment was deeply flawed”, says Lanre Suraju of HEDA. “At times, the judges’ reasoning borders on fantasy. The lazy racism stereotype that suggests that any corruption in the deal was restricted to Nigerians and Nigeria cannot be allowed to let Western defendants off the hook.”

“The OPL 245 case has put the Italian judicial system on trial”, comments Antonio Tricarico of Re:Common. “The Appeal is the opening salvo in a battle for the soul of the Italian judiciary and Italy’s standing in the international anti-corruption community.”

“The judges bent over backwards to give the companies the benefit of the doubt, distorting or ignoring vital contradictory evidence”, says Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House. “This bias needs to be investigated”.

[1] Judgment, Official Translation, p.244. “In conclusion, no element, even circumstantial, supports the participation of any of the defendants other than Etete in any agreement with the President of Nigeria before July 2010. In any case, it is clear that an unlawful agreement between Dan Etete and public officials would constitute a “domestic” corruption committed in Nigeria, therefore outside Italian jurisdiction.”

[2] https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2021/07/29/caso-eni-nigeria-la-procura-di-milano-e-il-governo-nigeriano-fanno-ricorso-in-appello-contro-lassoluzione-di-tutti-gli-imputati/6277529/

[3] Reuters reports a Shell spokesperson as saying: “We have always maintained that the 2011 settlement was legal. We will review the appeal that has been filed”. See: https://www.reuters.com/article/eni-shell-nigeria-idAFL8N2P56X3

[4] Reuters reports an Eni spokesperson as saying: “Waiting to read the reasons for the appeal; Eni confirms its total extraneousness to the contested facts.” See: https://www.reuters.com/article/eni-shell-nigeria-idAFL8N2P56X3