OPL 245: Nigeria Lose Again As Italian Prosecutors Terminate ‘Baseless’ Appeal

The attorney general of Italy has decided to terminate the appeal against a judgment of the Court of Milan which had discharged and acquitted Shell, Eni and others of corruption allegations in the OPL 245 affair.

Italian prosecutors had put the oil companies and some of their executives on criminal trial over allegations of corruption in the transfer of the oil block from Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd to Shell and Eni for a consideration of $1.1 billion, in addition to the payment of $200 million as signature bonus to the Nigerian government.

After three years of trial — which the government of Nigeria joined as an injured party — the Court of Milan ruled in March 2021 that the prosecutors did not establish any proof of corruption, discharging and acquitting all the defendants.

The prosecutors subsequently filed an appeal but at the start of hearing on Tuesday, Celestina Gravina, the Italian attorney general, said the case “must finish today because it has no basis… in fact it should have finished earlier”, according to Reuters.

The court subsequently struck out the case and effectively ended what was supposed to be one of the biggest corporate corruption cases in world history.

Nigeria still intends to pursue the civil case in which it is claiming to have lost money in the deal.

The next hearings are scheduled for September, Reuters reports.

Tuesday’s decision to end the case is yet another loss for the federal government which has been trying to prove that the OPL 245 deal was fraught with corruption.

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In June 2022, the High Court of England and Wales ruled that Nigeria did not prove its allegations of corruption against Mohammed Bello Adoke, the former attorney-general of the federation, who was accused of corruption in the transaction.

Nigeria had sued JP Morgan Bank to court for $1.7 billion for allegedly failing in its “duty of care” when it transferred the payments by Shell and ENI to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd between 2011 and 2013.

The country’s attempt to appeal the judgment was turned down by the judge who said there was no prospect of it succeeding.

Before the Court of Milan judgment of March 2021, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the US Department of Justice had both investigated the transaction and decided against filing charges because of lack of evidence of corruption.

Adoke has consistently maintained that he did no wrong and did not collect any bribe, but the government is currently prosecuting him in two different courts in Nigeria.

On Tuesday, Aliyu Abubakar, the property developer who was also on trial in Italy over the OPL 245 affair, told a federal high court sitting in Abuja that he was forced by EFCC to implicate former President Goodluck Jonathan and Adoke in money laundering in the same transaction.

He said that in December 2019, a statement was prepared for him to sign, failing which he was to be detained by the EFCC under the instructions of Ibrahim Magu, then chairman of the commission.

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