By Omoh Gabriel
An Italian judge Thursday rejected a prosecutorâ€™s request to suspend business operations of oil major Eni and its unit Saipem with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), an Eni lawyer and a judicial source said .The Italian judge it was reported rejected an application of a measure formulated by the prosecutor.
Also, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, has said it may raise oil output slightly at its next ministerial meeting.
According to Eniâ€™sÂ lawyer Severino â€œThat means the ban cannot be applied to Eni or Saipem,â€, adding that the public prosecutor can still appeal the decision. However, Italian courts do not have jurisdiction over alleged crimes which occurred abroad,.
Milanâ€™s probe is linked to an international investigation into alleged bribes of $180 million paid by the TSKJ consortium from 1994 to 2004 to get contracts worth more than $6 billion to build Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas facilities.
The TSKJ consortium was headed by former Halliburton unit KBR which pleaded guilty in February to U.S. charges that it paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials. The group also included Eni and Snamprogetti, now part of oil services group Saipem, Franceâ€™s Technip and Japanâ€™s JGC Corp
Eni, Europeâ€™s fourth-biggest oil company by market value, gets about 20 per cent of its production from west Africa, including Nigeria.
The Milan prosecutor was looking to see if Eni and Saipem had proper procedures in place to prevent international corruption, Eni said in notes to its half-year results statement published in August. In the notes, Eni said it had adopted all necessary control procedures and was cooperating with the relevant authorities.
Meanwhile OPEC has said it could decide to raise oil output slightly at its ministerial meeting next month if there were to be a substantial rise both in oil demand and prices. This was disclosed by Rilwanu Lukeman yesterday
Asked on the sidelines of an oil and gas industry conference in London what the 12 members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would decide at their next meeting in Angola on Dec. 22, Rilwanu Lukman told reporters â€œIf prices remain firm and demand remains healthy, then maybe we donâ€™t want to upset the market. But if demand increases materially and prices shoot up, then maybe weâ€™ll put in a little bit more.â€
Lukamn said OPEC was unlikely to cut oil production as long as oil prices stayed at current levels.
â€œI would not think there will be a production cut given the current oil price,â€ he said. â€œA cut at this price, I think not.â€ Benchmark U.S. crude oil futures are now trading around $79 per barrel, having rallied from a low of $32.40 in December of last year.
Prices hit a record high of almost $150 per barrel in July last year before collapsing as demand for fuel dried up during the global economic slowdown. Asked if the oil market was oversupplied, Lukman replied: â€œPrices would not be at this level if the market was oversupplied.â€
OPEC agreed a series of oil production cuts last year in an attempt to stabilise the market but output of several OPEC members had gradually risen above their production targets this year as the oil price has risen. Nigeria is one of several countries accused of producing more than its output target and Lukman was asked whether he believed his countryâ€™s output target should be higher.
â€œAll countries always want extra quota limits,â€ he replied. â€œWe are within our current quota.â€