OECD Concerned About Shell Acquittal in Nigerian Corruption Case
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is concerned about the acquittal of Shell and Eni by the Italian court in a Nigerian corruption case.
The substantiation of that acquittal is weak and also clashes with an OECD anti-bribery treaty signed by Italy, a working group of that organisation writes in a new report. In it, the organisation calls on Italy to amend legislation so that the country complies with the treaty.
Eleven years ago, Shell and Eni paid 1.3 billion dollars for the exploitation rights of the OPL-245 oil field off the Nigerian coast. Italian prosecutors suspected the oil and gas companies of being involved in bribery because much of that amount ended up with officials.
The court in Milan found that the two companies were not liable for the bribery because a former Nigerian minister had already made agreements about this with officials before Shell and Eni appeared. Even if the oil companies were aware of the corrupt agreements, they would not have been liable according to the verdict because the agreement between the former minister and officials had already been finalised.
But the OECD Working Group on the Fight Against Corruption finds this a disturbing argument. Under the Anti-Bribery Convention, companies are involved in corruption if they make a payment that they know is being used to bribe others. Whether corrupt officials had agreements about this with companies themselves or someone else is irrelevant.
The authors of the OECD report also find it disturbing that judges have ignored circumstantial evidence of corruption simply because they did not provide direct evidence. For example, an official received a portion of the proceeds from the OPL 245 sale to purchase a villa worth $4.5 million. This would have been a fee for legal services previously provided by the official while still practising as a lawyer. Along with email exchanges that also pointed to bribery, the OECD said there were many indications of corruption, but each was dismissed as too weak evidence.
The court in Milan acquitted Shell and Eni in 2021. However, in July, the Italian Attorney General called off an appeal. As a result, the Dutch Public Prosecution Service also refrained from further prosecuting Shell in the Nigerian case, much to the disappointment of anti-corruption organisations that had reported the oil companies. One of those organisations, ReCommon, calls the OECD judgment “a clear slap in the face to Italian judges and the prosecutor handling the OPL-245 case”.