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Shell and ENI face trial in Italy for bribes in Nigeria
May 10, 2017, 5:08 pm

"Etete can smell the money. If, at 70 years old, he does turn his nose up at 1.2 billion he is completely certifiable."

That quote taken from a confidential email by a Shell employee, not only embarrasses the oil giant, but could also lead to the company being convicted of corruption. The Etete, mentioned in the leaked email refers to former Nigerian oil minister and convicted money launderer Dan Etete.

Criminal proceedings against Shell, and its Italian partner ENI, are currently underway in a Milan court in relation to the paying of bribes to secure the purchase of a Nigerian oil field. Shell had previously denied that it had any involvement with Etete when it purchased the rights to one of Nigeria's biggest oil fields, OPL 245.

But last week, the British environmentalist and anti-corruption organization, Global Witness, published confidential emails written by the Shell employee. This correspondence, which went right to the top of the Shell management hierarchy, proves that there was a direct link to the convicted Nigerian. After publication of the email, Shell provided a clarification of its correspondence by stating that one had to negotiate with Etete "whether one wanted to or not."

The case dates back to 2011 when Shell and the Italian oil giant ENI transferred $1.3 billion (1.2 billion euros) to a back account owned by the Nigerian government. With this payment, the two companies wanted to secure the rights to one of Africa's largest oil fields. But a huge share of the money did not end up in Nigeria's state coffers; instead, it went to a company called Malabu which was controlled by Dan Etete. The former oil minister under Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacaha was convicted of money laundering in a separate case in France in 2007.

According to Italian prosecutors and research conducted by the international non-governmental organization (NGO) Global Witness, Etete was obliged to hand over a substantial fraction of the bribes his company received to high-ranking Nigerian politicians. And, one name that repeatedly crops up in the list of recipients is that of former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan.

Unlike Shell, ENI has continued to insist that it only dealt with the Nigerian government authorities and nobody else. In a written statement, the company said that "an independent inquiry commissioned by ENI found no evidence that ENI employees were engaged in corrupt deals in connection with financial transactions, or had any knowledge of such deals through third parties."

Anti-corruption activists however contend that Shell and ENI knew very well that they had paid the money for the oil field to a convicted money launderer. Barnaby Pace from Global Witness noted: “We believe that the two oil concerns not only broke the law with their deal, they also swindled the Nigerian population. Five million people are going hungry in Nigeria at a moment when more than a billion dollars were taken away from them. That amount is one and a half times the sum which the United Nations says is needed to combat Nigeria's current humanitarian crisis," Pace said.

Authorities in six countries are involved in investigations into the activities of Shell and ENI. More than $100 million in assets has been frozen in Switzerland and the UK. Nigeria's lower house of parliament has already set up a committee to investigate the award of the rights. The oil field in question is estimated to hold nine billion barrels of crude oil.

Exploitation of natural resources in poor countries and the accompanying corruption is not new to Shell; shortly prior to its purchase of the rights to OPL 245, Shell agreed to a payment of $30 million to avoid conviction in another case of suspected corruption. At the time, Shell promised to bolster its internal defenses against corruption. That was just a few months before Shell management received the emails about Dan Etete.


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