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OPL 245: Eni CEO, Shell former head, Etete threatened with jail term

*ENI describes prosecutor’s request for conviction as “groundless”

Italian prosecutors have requested Italian court to jail the chief executive officer of En Claudio Descalzi, Paolo Scaroni, his predecessor, former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete and Shell’s former head of exploration and production, Malcolm Brinded in the ongoing Oil Prospecting License, OPL 245 case in Italy.

Prosecutors made the request in their closing arguments in Milan as they alleged 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, according to a report by Financial Times.

The public prosecutors are requesting an eight-year prison sentence for Descalzi, requesting to confiscate up to $1.1bn in fines from defendants including the oil major and Royal Dutch Shell.

They also want a 10-year sentence for Mr. Etete, along with eight-year sentences for Descalzi, Scaroni, and an 88-month sentence for Shell’s Brinded.

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 oil companies deny any wrongdoing in the case, which allegedly involved payouts to several Nigerian oil ministers and attorneys-general with the knowledge of senior executives including Mr. Descalzi. All the officials and executives have denied the allegations.

Shell said the company did “not believe that there is a basis to convict Shell or any of its former employees in Milan”.

Eni, in a statement to SweetcrudeReports on Wednesday said it considered the requests for conviction of the company’s former and current executives “completely groundless”.

“During its indictment, in the absence of any evidence or tangible reference to the contents of the trial investigation, the Public Prosecutor has told a story based on suggestions and deductions as already developed during the investigation. This narrative ignores both the witnesses and the files presented within the two years long and more than 40 hearings proceeding, that have decisively denied the prosecutorial hypothesis”.

“Defence lawyers are going to show to the Court that both Eni and its management’s conducts were correct in the Opl245 transaction”.

“Eni and Shell paid a reasonable price for the license directly to the Nigerian Government, as contractually agreed, and through transparent and linear means. Furthermore, Eni neither knew nor should have been aware of the possible destination of the money subsequently paid by the Nigerian government to Malabu. Moreover, the payment was made after an inquiry carried on by the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)”.

“So there can, therefore, be no bribes from Eni in Nigeria, no existence of an Eni scandal. Eni recalls the decision of the Department of Justice and the US SEC, which decided to close its own investigations without taking any action against the company. The multiple internal investigations entrusted to international third parties by the company’s supervisory bodies have long since highlighted the absence of unlawful conduct. Eni trusts that the truth can finally be re-established following the defensive arguments that will be presented at the end of September, pending the Milan Court’s forthcoming verdict”, the statement read.

The companies are due to present their defence in September.