Italy’s Supreme Court threw out an appeal by Shell and four of its former managers to stymie a trial on alleged corruption in Nigeria, which also sees Eni’s chief on the bench, legal sources said on Wednesday.
The long-running graft case revolves around the 2011 purchase by Eni and Shell of Nigeria’s Oil Prospecting Licence 245, an offshore oilfield, for about $1.3bn.
The trial of top executives from the two oil majors kicked off on May 14, 2018, with a brief procedural hearing and a decision to re-adjourn to June.
The trial, which was initially scheduled to begin on March 5, 2018 in a Milan court, was postponed till May 14 and transferred to another chamber.
At the next hearing, set for June 20, the Milan court said it would assess requests from third parties, including a series of international non-profit organisations, to join the case.
The appeal by Shell and its ex-managers was aimed at reversing the trial to the preliminary hearing stage due to what they said were procedural errors, but the court decided the appeal was inadmissible, according to Reuters.
Nine current and former executives or contractors, including Eni Chief Executive, Claudio Descalzi, have been accused by Italian prosecutors of paying bribes to secure the licence to explore OPL 245. The field holds an estimated nine billion barrels of oil but has never entered production.
Shell and Eni have denied any wrongdoing. Those on trial could face jail if found guilty.
Reuters quoted a Shell spokeswoman as saying on Wednesday, “Based on our review of the Prosecutor of Milan’s file and all of the information and facts available to us, we do not believe that there is a basis to convict Shell or any of its former employees.”
As a rule, the Supreme Court does not comment on its decisions.
In 1998, OPL 245 was awarded by a former Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete, to Malabu Oil and Gas, which later sold it to Eni and Shell. The deal saw the Nigerian government act as an intermediary between the oil majors and Malabu Oil and Gas, a company allegedly controlled by Etete.