Italian prosecutors have asked for oil majors Eni and Shell to be fined and some of their present and former executives, including Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi, to be jailed in a long-running trial over alleged Nigerian oil bribery scandal.
In a Milan court, prosecutors asked on Tuesday for eight years in prison for Descalzi and seven years and four months for Shell’s former head of upstream Malcolm Brinded, Reuters reported.
The prosecutors also asked for Eni and Shell to be fined 900,000 euros ($1.04 million) each and sought to confiscate a total of $1.092 billion from all the defendants in the case, the equivalent of the bribes alleged to have been paid.
In one of the oil industry’s biggest scandal, centred on Nigerian oilfield OPL 245, Italian prosecutors allege Eni and Shell acquired the oilfield in 2011 knowing most of the $1.3 billion purchase price would go to politicians and middlemen in bribes.
The companies and individuals accused have all denied wrongdoing in the case.
Prosecutors made the request in their closing arguments in Milan in one of the biggest corruption cases in the oil industry’s history.
They allege that nearly all of the $1.3bn Shell and Eni paid in 2011 for the OPL 245 offshore oil block went towards bribes for businessmen, middlemen and Nigerian officials, particularly Dan Etete, Nigeria’s former oil minister, who owned the block.
In his closing argument of the two-year trial, prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale cited emails and testimony that he said proved that Shell, Eni and some of their most senior executives knew that most of the money they paid for OPL 245 went towards bribes.
The OPL 245 saga began in 1998, when Mr Etete, then petroleum minister, awarded his own company, Malabu, the licence for the field.
Years of legal wrangling between Shell and Malabu ensued, as the block was awarded and revoked to one and then the other by successive governments.
The 2011 deal was aimed at settling the disputed ownership of OPL 245, but instead led, in part because of a complaint by the London-based campaigning group Global Witness, to the bribery probe in Milan and investigations in the US, UK and the Netherlands.
The Nigerian government has argued that it was the victim of a serious fraud, though the companies continue to operate in the country.
In a separate case in the UK, Nigeria is suing JPMorgan Chase, alleging that the bank facilitated the misappropriation of $845m in state funds related to OPL 245 via transfers from Malabu accounts. The bank denies any wrongdoing.