Shell, Eni to Be Tried Over $1.3 Billion Malabu Oil Deal

Shell, Eni to Be Tried Over $1.3 Billion Malabu Oil Deal

An Italian judge ruled on Wednesday that two of the world’s largest oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni, the Italian company, must go on trial on charges of corruption over a $1.3 billion oil deal in Nigeria.

Italian prosecutors say that Nigerian officials were paid off with large sums of money in bribe.

The judge set a March 5 trial date in Milan for a group of current and former executives, including Claudio Descalzi, Eni’s chief executive, and Malcolm Brinded, a former chief of exploration and production for Shell.

“This is a landmark case,” said Barnaby Pace, a campaigner at Global Witness, a nonprofit group that has conducted its own investigations of the Nigeria case. “This is something of massive concern for the companies involved.”

The payment to the Nigerian government was intended to resolve a dispute over the tract, which was also claimed by a company called Malabu Oil and Gas. That company has been linked to a former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete. The Nigerian government, in turn, agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle Malabu’s claims.
The Dutch police raided the offices of Royal Dutch Shell last year as part of the investigation. But Shell said in a statement on Wednesday, “We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees.”

Both companies have denied wrongdoing, but having such senior or former top executives facing trial is unusual. The court case is likely to highlight the murky dealings of the international oil business, in which large sums of money are sometimes paid to governments for access to resources.

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