For the first time, an Italian judge will this week give a ruling in one of the energy industry’s biggest corruption scandals involving Shell and Eni following the purchase of an offshore oilfield in Nigeria.
The oil majors will be carefully monitoring the ruling by a Milan judge for clues to what might be around the corner for them, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
The two companies are embroiled in a long-running corruption case revolving the purchase in 2011 of one of Africa’s biggest oilfields, Oil Prospecting Licence 245, for about $1.3bn.
The case, which involves Eni’s Chief Executive Officer, Claudio Descalzi, and four former Shell managers, including a one-time Shell Foundation Chairman, Malcolm Brinded, has spawned legal cases spanning several countries and is expected to drag on for months.
But this Thursday, in a case running parallel to the main trial, a judge will decide, for the first time, whether $1.1bn of the sum paid was siphoned in bribes to win the licence to the field.
Eni and Shell, as well as their managers, have denied any wrongdoing.
While the ruling would not tie the court’s hand in the main trial, it would nonetheless constitute a sort of pre-judgement, Reuters quoted a legal source involved in the case as saying.
“It’s clear the ruling will become a first building block in favour of the prosecution or the defence…it will be a first verdict by a third-party judge on the matter,” the source said.
In a fast-track procedure that began last November, the judge will be called on to decide whether a Nigerian, Emeka Obi, and Italian Gianluca Di Nardo, who the prosecution said were middlemen, should be convicted in the case or acquitted.