By Hector Igbikiowubo, with agency reports
LAGOS â€” An Italian judge deferred hearing on a request by Milan prosecutors to bar Italian energy group Eni and its subsidiary Saipem from conducting business with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), an Eni lawyer disclosed yesterday.
The expected ruling is part of a probe by Milan prosecutors into bribery allegations related to construction of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas trains 1, 2 and 3 on Bonny Island in Rivers State, Nigeria.
The Milan probe is linked to an international investigation into alleged bribes of $180 million paid by the TSKJ consortium in the period 1994-2004 to obtain contracts worth more than $6 billion to build Nigerian LNG facilities.
â€œThere was no decision because the prosecutorâ€™s office has presented documents from an American investigation in a (foreign) language which should be translated,â€ Reuters quoted Eniâ€™s lawyer Paola Severino who spoke with reporters after the hearing.
â€œBecause of this, the judge has postponed the hearing to 21 October,â€ she said.
Lawyers for Eni and oilfield services group Saipem and prosecutors presented their positions to the judge yesterday.
Eni and Saipem can appeal a ban which would be immediately effective and would prevent the two companies from signing contracts with NNPC and its subsidiaries, judicial sources have said.
The Milan prosecutors are looking to see if Eni and Saipem had proper procedures in place to prevent the â€œoffences involving international corruption charged against two former managers of (Saipemâ€™s) Snamprogetti,â€ Eni said in notes in the companyâ€™s half-year statements published in August.
The Italian oil company reiterated in the notes it was co-operating with the competent authorities.
Oilfield service unit Snamprogetti, an Eni unit now controlled by Saipem, was part of the TSKJ group along with Franceâ€™s Technip and Japanâ€™s JGC Corporation, which constructed the NLNG trains 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.
The consortium was headed by former Halliburton unit KBR, which pleaded guilty in February to US charges that it paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials to secure four contracts to build and expand Nigeriaâ€™s Bonny Island LNG terminal.
While the bribery allegations have seen sentences handed down in France, the UK and USA to some of the dramatis personae, not much seem to be happening in Nigeria where huge sums were allegedly paid out in bribes to government personnel from the presidency to the ministry and even the NNPC.
Although following an outcry of righteous indignation from the media and some members of the public a committee (Halliburton Committee) was constituted to look into the allegations, not much is expected to come out of this.
The Halliburton Committee which took off with Mike Okiro, the erstwhile Inspector General of Police at the helm of affairs gave the impression that it was set to unravel the circumstances surrounding the incident.
However, several months after, Okiro has retired and even though his successor Ogbonna Onovo is expected to automatically assume the head of the Halliburton Committee, nothing seems to be happening regarding reigning in the accused bribe takers.