By Prince Okafor with Agency Report
AN Italian court has concluded plans to deliver its first verdict on the trial of top Shell and Eni executives, over alleged corruption in the controversial Malabu scandal tomorrow in Milan, Italy.
The Italian prosecutors alleged that $1.1 billion from the deal didn’t come into Nigeria where the oil field OPL 245 is located, but to accounts belonging to former Minister of Petroleum, Mr. Dan Etete.
The Italian judge, it was learnt will decide, for the first time, whether $1.1 billion of the sum paid was siphoned in bribes to win the license to the field.
The defendants include former Shell Vice President for sub-Saharan Africa, Peter Robinson, and former company board member Malcolm Brinded.
During the proceeding, if any of the parties is found guilty, the individuals will face possible jail sentence for bribery while the companies face hefty fines.
According to Reuters, the two companies are embroiled in a long-running graft case revolving around the purchase in 2011 of one of Africa’s biggest oilfields – Nigeria’s OPL 245 – for about $1.3 billion.
Meanwhile, Eni and Shell, as well as their managers, have denied any wrongdoing.
But a legal source said while the ruling will not tie the court’s hand in the main trial, it will nonetheless constitute a sort of pre-judgment, adding, “It is clear the ruling will become a first building block in favour of the prosecution or the defense, it will be the first verdict by a third-party judge on the matter.”
Also, the source said that the judge will be called on to decide whether Emeka Obi and Italian Gianluca Di Nardo, who the prosecution says were middlemen, should be convicted in the case or acquitted.
Already, prosecutors have alleged that Obi received a mandate from former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete to find a buyer for OPL 245, collecting $114 million.
Di Nardo, they said, took $24 million of that amount for putting Obi in touch with Eni. Those alleged payments were illegal kickbacks, prosecutors say.
Obi and Di Nardo, who have previously denied any wrongdoing, asked for a fast-track trial which under Italian law allows any eventual sentence to be cut by a third.