CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) — An Italian judge on Thursday convicted two men of being middlemen in a massive bribery scheme involving oil giants Shell and Eni and a lucrative offshore Nigerian oilfield.
Reuters and Italian media reported that Emeka Obi and Gianluca Di Nardo were sentenced by a judge in Milan to 4 years on charges of international corruption.
The sprawling $1.3 billion bribery deal involved Royal Dutch Shell Plc. and Italy-based Eni S.p.A. executives. The oil giants allegedly worked out a corrupt deal with Nigerian officials, including then-President Goodluck Jonathan, to buy a much-coveted oilfield off the coast of Nigeria, known as OPL 245.
Di Nardo and Obi were convicted in a Milan court under an abbreviated closed-door legal procedure. A fast-track trial can result in a reduced sentence. The two men can appeal the convictions. Prosecutors sought 5-year sentences.
Global Witness, a London-based anticorruption watchdog group tracking the case, said the defendants chose to have their cases fast-tracked.
Barnaby Pace, a campaigner with Global Witness, said in an email to Courthouse News Friday that Italian courts are not required to issue a written judgment in such cases for several weeks.
Next Wednesday, the prosecution is expected to begin to present its evidence against the oil companies and 13 other defendants.
Shell and Eni deny the allegations.
Shell said in a statement that the two convicted men did not work for Shell and that the company was “not a party to their fast-track trial.”
Shell said the company does not believe there is “a basis to convict Shell or any of its former employees” based on what prosecutors have alleged.
“We await and will read the written decision of the fast track trial judge once issued,” the company said.
“There is no place for bribery or corruption in our company,” it added.
Eni, which is owned in large part by the Italian government, also said it stood by its actions and rejected the allegations against it. It said it too was awaiting the written ruling.
The company said a trial where all the facts are presented — unlike what happened in the fast-track process — will absolve Eni of wrongdoing.
Pace of Global Witness saw it differently.
“This judgment will send shivers down the corporate spines of the oil industry,” he said, “and will surely alarm Shell and Eni employees and shareholders who have been repeatedly told that there was nothing amiss with the OPL 245 deal.”
In December 2017, Milan judges ordered the companies and defendants to stand trial.
Milan prosecutors say the corrupt deal was negotiated and enacted between 2009 and 2014 in a complex web of interests.
In court documents, prosecutors said the deal involved top oil company executives, two former British secret service members, shady bank transfers and cash payments, many of which went to former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete, who allegedly obtained the lucrative oilfield through a company called Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd.
Etete allegedly asked Obi to help find buyers for the oilfield. Di Nardo allegedly put Obi in contact with Eni.
Among those accused of international corruption are Paolo Scaroni, who was CEO and executive director of Eni at the time of the alleged bribery, and Claudio Descalzi, who serves as Eni’s CEO now.
Also facing charges are Malcolm Brinded, former chief exploration director at Shell, and Peter Robinson, a former vice president for sub-Saharan Africa at Shell.
In July, the Milan court ruled that Nigeria can seek damages against the oil companies as an injured civil party.