A judge in Milan has ordered Eni, Shell and it’s key figures such as Eni chief Claudio Descalzi and his predecessor Paolo Scaroni to stand trial in proceedings to begin March 5.
Both companies stand accused of bribery and corruption in the 2011 purchase of OPL245, an offshore oil block estimated to hold about 9 billion barrels of crude, for $1.3 billion.
“Eni’s Board of Directors has reaffirmed its confidence that the company was not involved in alleged corrupt activities in relation to the transaction,” the Italian firm said in a statement Wednesday.
“Eni expresses its full confidence in the judicial process and that the trial will ascertain and confirm the correctness and integrity of its conduct,” it said.
It insisted in particular that “chief executive Claudio Descalzi was not involved in the alleged illegal conduct”.
However, both companies have repeatedly maintained that they acquired the rights to the lucrative block in line with Nigerian law.
Italian prosecutors had earlier indicted Shell and Agip for their role in the 2011 deal in which Nigeria sold the lucrative oil block to the two oil majors.
Both companies are charged with bribery and corruption in Nigeria over the deal which was approved by the then President Goodluck Jonathan with alleged further claims that a former petroleum minister, Dan Etete, and a former Attorney-General, Bello Adoke, are amongst several Nigerians indicted in the deal.
Shell and Eni’s Nigerian subsidiary, Agip, are among those already being prosecuted in Nigeria.
In a prompt reaction to the judge’s decision, Shell said it was shocked.
“We are disappointed by the outcome of the preliminary hearing and the decision to indict Shell and its former employees. We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees.
“Shell attaches the greatest importance to business integrity. It’s one of our core values and is a central tenet of the Business Principles that govern the way we do business. Shell has clear rules on anti-bribery and corruption and these are included in our Code of Conduct for all staff. There is no place for bribery or corruption in our company,” the firm said in a statement released to the press.