Top officials at Royal Dutch Shell have been charged in Italy for their alleged roles in the $1.3 billion Malabu Oil scandal, Italian prosecutors said Friday.
Although the full list of the newly-charged suspects has not been disclosed, Global Witness quoted Milan Prosecutor's Office as confirming that it included Malcom Brinded, second most senior official at Shell when the controversial deal was struck in 2011.
Barnaby Pace of the UK-based Global Witness told PREMIUM TIMES that the Shell executives would be arraigned alongside others that have been identified by Italian prosecutors as co-conspirators in the Malabu fraud.
Although Shell acknowledged it had prior knowledge that the deal involved a convicted money launderer, the company denied its officials directly participated in any bribery scheme.
In December 2016, prosecutors indicated their interest to charge 13 persons for their alleged roles in the oil deal, which was approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.
A former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum and ex-convict, Dan Etete, was amongst those the prosecutor sought to charge last December, but their trials have not commenced.
"We've heard that the final preliminary hearing to rule on the prosecutor's request for trial is at the end of this month so that's the earliest we could have that decision," Mr. Pace told PREMIUM TIMES Monday.
Milan prosecutors have investigated the Malabu deal since 2012 when suspicion began to mount over the deal.
Also in December 2016, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission filed charges against Mr. Etete and a former Attorney-General Bello Adoke, both of whom remained at large in foreign countries.
The duo had long maintained wrongdoing, saying the Nigerian and Italian authorities were on a witchhunt.
Mr. Jonathan has also been identified as a person of interest in the deal, with the FBI revealing that the former president probably received over $200 million in bribes to authorise the deal.
"We wish to make it clear that former President Jonathan was not accused, indicted or charged for corruptly collecting any monies as kickbacks or bribes from ENI by the Italian authorities or any other law enforcement body the world over," Mr. Jonathan said in a statement in January.
About $520 million was alleged to have been shared between Mr. Jonathan and officials in his government, including Mr. Adoke.
"This could be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, and a watershed moment for the oil industry," Mr. Pace said in a statement.
"The top brass of the UK's largest company is in the dock after it finally admitted dealing with a convicted money launderer.
"There can be no clearer sign that wholesale change is needed. Shell must first apologise to the Nigerian people, then take clear steps to reassure investors and the broader public that this won't happen again," Mr. Pace added.
In his reaction, a Nigerian anti-corruption activist, Olanrewaju Suraju, said, "These charges are a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual for oil companies in Nigeria. It's now time for the Dutch and British authorities to follow Italy's lead and hold their biggest company to account."