Barely four months after he assumed office as the head of Italy’s biggest listed company, the Chief Executive Officer of Eni, Mr.Claudio Descalzi, has been placed under investigation by Italian prosecutors over alleged corruption relating to the $1.3 billion Malabu Oil deal on Nigeria’s Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL) 245.
The prosecutors in Milan had started a probe earlier this year but have now widened the net to include Descalzi, in a case relating to the acquisition of Nigeria’s OPL 245 offshore oil block in 2011.
Reuters reported yesterday that Eni had confirmed that Descalzi was being investigated after a report in Italian daily Corriere della Sera said he was being probed over the controversial Nigerian oil deal.
“Eni is cooperating with the Milan prosecutor’s office and is confident that the correctness of its actions will emerge during the course of the investigation,” Eni said in a statement.
A former head of its core Exploration and Production (E &P) Division, Descalzi took over in May 2014 from Paolo Scaroni, who is also under investigation for alleged corruption in Algeria.
Descalzi could not immediately be reached for comment but Eni also confirmed that its Operations and Technology Officer Roberto Casula was also being probed.
Court sources told Reuters yesterday that Scaroni was also under investigation in the Nigerian case.
Scaroni and Casula could also not immediately be reached for comment.
Former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mr. Dan Etete, awarded the block in 1998 for $20 million to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company in which he was a leading shareholder.
Malabu however only ever paid $2 million for the stake, in 1999.
The dispute between Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary and Malabu arose after the federal government revoked Malabu’s licence to the block in 2001, following the death in 1998 of former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.
In 2002, the administration of then President Olusegun Obasanjo awarded the exploration rights to the oil block to the Shell subsidiary.
This sparked an ownership dispute that lasted nearly a decade, leading in 2011 to a two-tiered deal.
The field was eventually sold to Eni and Shell in 2011 for a total of $1.3 billion, including a signature bonus of around $207 million.
Malabu received around $1.09 billion from the sale, while the federal government kept the balance, a British court document has shown.
Global anti-corruption crusaders, who asked the British investigators to investigate the Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245 deal, alleged that Shell and Eni used the federal government as a go-between to create the false impression that they were dealing with the government and not the former minister.
But Eni, the biggest foreign oil and gas producer in Africa, has always said it dealt exclusively with the government of Nigeria and Shell over the acquisition.
Descalzi, who was head of the group’s exploration and production (E&P) unit at the time of the OPL 245 deal, was appointed CEO of Eni in May.
The Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, came to office in February pledging to clean up Italian business and introduce ethics rules at publicly-controlled companies, aiming to sack the directors found guilty of financial crimes.
But shareholders at many of Italy’s big state-controlled companies, including Eni, allegedly threw out the proposals by voting against their inclusion in company by-laws.
Meanwhile, the Consul-General of the Consulate of the People’s Republic of China in Lagos, Mr. Liu Kan, yesterday expressed his country’s growing interest in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.
Liu told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that China would also depend on Nigeria to satisfy the demand of her increasing population for crude oil and gas.
“China is the most populous nation in the world and her demand for oil and gas is increasing by the day.
“Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and ranks the 11th largest in the world.
“China will, therefore, continue to value her good relations with Nigeria in areas of oil and gas. We see a great potential in our cooperation with Nigeria in areas of oil and gas in the future,” he said.