Italian judge jails two in Nigerian oil graft case
* Case revolves around Nigerian OPL 245 field
* Sentence comes ahead of main trial involving Shell, Eni
* Next hearing in main trial on Sept. 26
(Recasts, adds Shell and Eni comments, anti-corruption
By Emilio Parodi
MILAN, Sept 20 (Reuters) - An Italian judge sentenced two
defendants in a Nigerian corruption case to jail on Thursday in
the first ruling on one of the oil industry's biggest graft
Nigerian Emeka Obi and Italian Gianluca Di Nardo were found
guilty of international corruption and each given four-year jail
sentences, three sources with knowledge of the ruling said.
Lawyers for Obi and Di Nardo declined to comment.
The long-running case revolves around the 2011 purchase by
Italian oil company Eni and Anglo-Dutch peer Royal
Dutch Shell of Nigeria’s OPL 245 offshore oilfield for
about $1.3 billion.
Milan prosecutors allege bribes totaling around $1.1 billion
were paid to win the licence to explore the field which,
because of disputes, has never entered into production.
The main trial - which besides Eni and Shell also involves
Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi and four ex-Shell managers including
former Shell Foundation Chairman Malcolm Brinded - is expected
to drag on for months.
But Obi and Di Nardo, accused of being middlemen and taking
illegal kickbacks, had asked for a separate fast-track trial
which, under Italian law, allows sentences to be cut by a third.
Thursday's ruling will not tie the court's hand in the main
But Barnaby Pace, anti-corruption campaigner at Global
Witness, said: "This judgment will send shivers down the
corporate spines of the oil industry."
In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for Shell said
neither Obi nor Di Nardo worked on behalf of the company, adding
it was waiting to see the fast-track judge's written decision.
"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 of alleged offences," it said.
Also in emailed comments, Eni reiterated it had acted
correctly in the purchase of OPL 245, saying it had worked
directly with the Nigerian government.
Nigeria's OPL 245 is one of the biggest sources of untapped
oil reserves on the African continent with reserves estimated at
9 billion barrels.
Eni, the biggest foreign oil producer in Africa, has been
doing business in Nigeria since 1962 and last year produced
109,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
Shell is the biggest foreign investor in the country,
producing 266,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2017.
The sources said the Milan judge had ordered the seizure of
$98.4 million from Obi and more than 21 million Swiss francs
($21.9 million) from Di Nardo.
Prosecutors had alleged Obi received a mandate from former
Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete to find a buyer for OPL 245,
collecting $114 million. Di Nardo, they said, took $24 million
of that amount for putting Obi in touch with Eni.
The next hearing of the main trial involving Eni, Shell and
13 people is set for Sept. 26.
($1 = 0.9611 Swiss francs)
(Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes, Ron Bousso and Shadia
Nasralla, writing by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Angus MacSwan
and Mark Potter)
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