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Shell, Eni on trial in biggest Nigerian oil block bribery case

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Shell and Eni and former and current executives of the two oil giants will stand trial Monday in Milan, Italy, in connection with a $1.1 billion bribery scandal linked to bids for one of Nigeria’s most lucrative oil blocks, reported The Hindu (India).

Eni’s current CEO, Claudio Descalzi, is one of 13 individuals charged in the case involving the 2011 purchase of the OPL245 block. Other defendants include his predecessor, Paolo Scaroni, two former top Shell executives, a former Nigerian oil minister, and a series of middlemen and advisers. The companies themselves are also corporate defendants.

The case is one of the largest corporate bribery cases ever, anti-corruption campaigners say.

Prosecutors allege that $520 million of the $1.1 billion paid into an escrow account was converted into cash and distributed as bribes, while several hundred million more went to a former oil minister.

Prosecutors also have opened an investigation into allegations that Eni legal representatives tried to throw investigators off of the Nigeria case. Authorities searched the legal representatives’ offices in early February.

Both Anglo-Dutch Shell and Eni have denied wrongdoing, expressing confidence that the trial would exonerate both the companies and individuals.

Both companies are also under investigation in the case in the Netherlands and face charges in Nigeria.

The Italian charges followed similar indictments last year in Nigeria that target a Shell subsidiary, not the parent company. In Nigeria, prosecutors allege bribes of more than $800 million were made to government officials and a businessman for the block’s license and that the Nigerian government only got $210 million from the deal.

Global Witness, an anti-corruption non-governmental agency that filed a criminal case that aided prosecutors’ investigations, said the Milan trial was the biggest corporate bribery case in history, involving the equivalent of Nigeria’s entire health budget.

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