Nigeria: Malabu Deal - Italy Orders Probe of ENI, Shell's Prosecutors for Allegedly Hiding Evidence

16 June 2021

The Italian Ministry of Justice yesterday ordered an inquiry into the conduct of two prosecutors in a corruption case over Eni and Shell's acquisition of oil prospecting licence (OPL) 245 in Nigeria.

The ministry accuses the prosecutors of hiding vital evidence that would have exonerated Eni.

In 2011, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni paid $1.3 billion to purchase an offshore oil field (OPL 245) from Malabu Oil and Gas, a company former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, had major shares in.

It was alleged that about $1.1 billion was siphoned off to politicians and middlemen.

But an Italian court acquitted Shell, Eni and other defendants of corruption charges in the oil deal, after more than three years of court appearances.

According to Reuters, Milan prosecutors Fabio De Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro were placed under official investigation by magistrates earlier this month for allegedly failing to file documents that would have supported Eni's position.

The justice ministry, in a statement, said that it had decided to move in the wake of the judicial investigation and following criticism of the pair by the trial judges.

"The ministry has asked the inspectorate to carry out preliminary investigations to correctly reconstruct the facts by acquiring the necessary documents," it said.

In papers filed on June 9, the judges criticised the way the prosecutors had carried out their work, saying they had failed to file with the trial documents a video shot by a former Eni external lawyer, which they said was relevant to the case.

Reuters reported that De Pasquale and Spadaro declined to comment on the latest development.

However, Milan's attorney general said he supported the two men.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Bello Adoke, who was the Nigerian attorney-general when the deal was signed in 2011, had earlier alleged that the Italian prosecutors hid vital evidence from the court which would have exonerated him of alleged bribery in the transaction.

Although Adoke was not on trial in Italy, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has put him on trial in Nigeria over allegations of money laundering.

Adoke alleged that the Italian prosecutors deliberately concealed his failed N300 million mortgage transaction with Unity Bank from the Milan court just to create the impression that he collected a bribe.

He also alleged that an email purportedly sent by him from the account of a property company mentioned in the OPL 245 payments was forged.

Adoke also alleged that a phone conversation was stage-managed to implicate him.

In it, somebody posing as Adoke was heard saying he knew the OPL 245 deal was "a presidential fraud".

Following a petition by Adoke, the police quizzed Olanrewaju Suraju, chairman of HEDA, over allegations of forgery.

HEDA is the Nigerian partner of the international campaigners who helped the Italian prosecutors in the OPL 245 trial.

With Agency Report

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