02 October 2014, Lagos – Italian oil and gas major, Eni, the parent company of Nigeria Agip Oil Company, has been alleged to have used at least half of the $1.1bn paid to purchase a Nigerian oil field in 2011 to bribe local politicians, intermediaries and others, according to official documents and a person close to the investigation.
The Milan prosecutors, who recently opened a probe into the acquisition, have placed the company, its former chief executive officer, Paolo Scaroni, and current CEO, Claudio Descalzi, under investigation for alleged international corruption surrounding the deal for the Oil Prospecting Licence 245 offshore oil field concession.
Last year, British police began investigating a money-laundering allegation in connection with the same field.
Eni and both managers, neither of whom have been charged, have denied any wrongdoing.
Calling on their UK counterpart to assist in freezing suspect assets, Italian prosecutors said in a letter to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service seen by Reuters that at least $533m was paid to Nigerian officials and intermediaries who helped secure the sale.
Eni and Royal Dutch Shell, which is not under investigation, bought the rights to the OPL 245 offshore oil block from the Nigerian government in 2011.
Production from the deepwater oil field is expected to begin in 2016 with the field estimated to hold up to 9.23 billion barrels of crude, equivalent to nearly a quarter of the country’s total proven reserves, according to industry figures.
As part of their investigation, the Italian prosecutors in May asked the UK’s CPS to freeze $85m in assets related to a Nigerian company, Malabu Oil & Gas, that prosecutors say was involved in the sale, according to a copy of the official request sent by the Milan investigators and seen by Reuters.
In the letter, the Italian prosecutors alleged that Scaroni and Descalzi oversaw the payments to parties who helped secure the sale. In a second letter they alleged that some of the ultimate recipients of alleged bribes used the money to buy aircraft and armoured cars.
In response to the requests London’s Southwark Crown Court last month granted an order to seize the $85m in assets related to Malabu, according to a judicial source.
London’s Metropolitan Police has also been investigating aspects of the Nigerian deal since last year. A police spokesman said the inquiry into allegations of money laundering is continuing.
Descalzi and Scaroni, in statements and through their lawyers, denied that they were involved in any illegal behaviour. Descalzi also told Eni employees in an email seen by Reuters that he had not engaged in any wrongdoing.
After a board meeting last week Eni also reiterated that the company had not engaged in any wrongdoing and that it had “full confidence that Descalzi had acted properly.”
When the block was acquired, the Nigerian government said it was helping to resolve an ownership dispute over the block between Shell and Malabu Oil and Gas.
Under the deal, Eni made a payment to the Nigerian government of $1.09bn to secure joint ownership of the block along with Shell, which had previously taken a 40 per cent stake and had begun to develop the field.
Most of the money Eni paid was subsequently passed on to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company believed to be owned by Dan Etete, a former Nigerian oil minister.
The OPL 245 deal has come under scrutiny in the Nigerian parliament for the role played by Dan Etete, a former oil minister. Etete was said to have awarded the rights to the block to Malabu Oil and Gas in 1998, at a time when he was close to Nigeria’s then-military dictator General Sani Abacha.
In February this year, the House of Representatives called for the outright cancellation of the award of OPL 245 to Shell and Agip for identified flaws in the resolution agreement among Malabu Oil and Gas, Shell and Agip with the federal government acting as obligor.
The legislators, in the report of the ad hoc committee that investigated OPL 245 Malabu deal, also directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to prosecute all individuals and financial institutions linked with and found culpable of receiving and transferring unlawfully with respect to the deal.
Malabu Oil and Gas had sued the House of Representatives over its decision to cancel the sale of the OPL 245 oil block, asking the court to declare null and void, the resolution of the House on the oil block.
The Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) also summoned Mohammed Adoke, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and others allegedly involved in the deal to a meeting on January 29, 2014 over the issue but the minister did not attend.
– The Punch