Top former executives from oil giants Shell and Eni are to stand trial for an alleged $1.1 billion bribery scheme, an Italian court ruled on Wednesday.
This is the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, and relates to alleged corruption in a deal done over a Nigerian oil block.
The trial is due to begin in March. Shell and Eni denied any wrongdoing.
An Italian judge has ordered former executives from oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and Eni to stand trial over an alleged $1.1 billion bribery scheme.
Mrs Justice Barbara handed down the ruling on Wednesday, stating top executives are to be tried on charges of aggravated international corruption for their role in a $1.1 billion deal for Nigerian oil block OPL 245 in 2011. The trial is set to begin on March 5 next year.
“The Nigerian people lost out on over $1 billion, equivalent to the country’s entire health budget, as a result of this corrupt deal,” said Simon Taylor, co-founder of campaign group Global Witness.
“They deserve to know the truth about what happened to their missing millions. We welcome the prosecutor’s efforts to bring this case to trial. It will be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history – and act as a warning to others who see corruption as a route for quick financial wins,” he said.
In April, Shell admitted it had dealt with convicted money launderer and former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete in relation to a $1.1 billion payment for the oil block in 2011, although it had previously claimed it only paid the Nigerian government.
This came a day after the publication of an investigation by Global Witness and Finance Uncovered, which alleged Shell executives and Italian oil company Eni had known the money was being paid to Etete via his front company, and that it would be used to bribe Nigerian officials.
Those ordered on Wednesday to face trial include Shell’s Malcolm Brinded, former Executive Director for Upstream International and two former MI6 agents employed by Shell. Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi, former CEO Paolo Scaroni, Chief Operations and Technology Officer Roberto Casula are also to face trial.
Shell said in a statement, “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.”
Eni said in a statement, “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 Board of Directors also confirmed its full confidence that chief executive Claudio Descalzi was not involved in the alleged illegal conduct and, more broadly, in his role as head of the company. Eni expresses its full confidence in the judicial process and that the trial will ascertain and confirm the correctness and integrity of its conduct.”
Italian NGO Re:Common called on former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to apologise to the Italian and Nigerian people for defending Descalzi’s appointment as Eni CEO in 2014.
“This case heralds the dawning of the age of accountability, a world where even the most powerful corporations can no longer hide their wrongdoing and avoid justice,” said Lanre Suraju, chairman of Nigerian NGO Human and Environmental Development Agenda.