The Federal High Court in Lagos will hear a suit filed by civil society organisation Human Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) seeking Royal Dutch Shell’s forfeiture of Oil Production Licence (OPL) 245 on grounds of corruption.

The field is in a $1.1-1.3 billion court battle in Italy, England and Nigeria. Chairman of HEDA, Lanre Suraju, said the case was filed to ensure the retrieval of the national asset from unscrupulous persons and corporations.

"This action is instituted to expose the players in the notorious Malabu scandal, in which extant local laws and policies were breached and blatantly ignored. We shall use the law to retrieve this national asset from unscrupulous persons and corporations," Suraju said.

The organisation’s case is hinged on the argument that Eni and Shell’s current hold on the license is tarnished by the original allocation of the licence in 1998 to Malabu, a company Nigeria’s then Oil Minister Dan Etete held an ownership stake in. His interest was held under a false name, a situation HEDA considers “the height of conflict of interest and corrupt practices”. The group also draws its claims from arguments made by Nigeria in a related UK court case that the 2011 deal for the block with oil giants Shell and Eni was corrupt.

“This corrupt deal is spawning legal action all over the world. Global Witness wholeheartedly supports the move to revoke the rights to this oil block. Shell and Eni should not be allowed to profit from their appalling behaviour, and other oil companies should take note: it is no longer business as usual in the oil industry,” Barnaby Pace of UK-based anti-corruption organisation Global Witness stated.

The suit filed by HEDA will require the presence of Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. Shell, Italian oil firm Eni, U.S bank JP Morgan Chase, Nigeria’s former Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke, Dan Etete and the Jonathan regime, have all been fingered in the deal.

The first international battle for Shell and Eni starts in Milan on May 14. The Milan Public Prosecutor alleges that $520 million from Shell and Eni’s payment for the 2011 deal was changed into cash as payments to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials.

The prosecutor also claims that money was sent to Eni and Shell executives, $50 million of which was delivered to the home of then Head of Business for Sub-Saharan Africa in Eni, Roberto Casula. In a court case brought by the Nigerian government against JP Morgan Chase, it confirmed that it knew in a month’s advance that Dan Etete was the beneficiary of a $800 million payment it made from a Nigerian Excrow account in August 2011.

The Nigerian government had accused the bank of negligence for executing the transfer, a claim it denies.

“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,” Antonio Tricarico of Italian NGO Re:Common said. 

A joint investigation by UK-based advocacy media company, Finance Uncovered, and Global Witness, caused Shell to reverse its claim that it never dealt with Etete. Etete had awarded OPL 245 to him self during his stint as Oil Minister.

In response to the preliminary indictments, A Shell spokesman said: “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’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.”

Mohammed Adoke has refused to return to Nigeria to stand trial for an alleged receipt of $2.2 million, which he claims came from a property deal rather than from Malabu payments.

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