Shell Headquarters Raided In Nigerian Corruption Investigation

Written by Dana Sanchez

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is being investigated in Italy over a Nigerian oil deal that has also implicated Italy’s energy giant, Eni SpA, WallStreetJournal reported.

Italian prosecutors are investigating whether Shell’s portion of a $1.3 billion payment to acquire a lucrative oil field off the Nigerian coast constituted a bribe. Italian and Dutch police raided Shell’s headquarters in The Hague in February searching for evidence that could be used in the case.

Shell and Eni have jointly owned a Nigerian license known as OPL 245 since 2011 to develop huge Atlantic Ocean oil fields estimated to hold 9 billion barrels of oil, WallStreetJournal reported. It is a large project in Africa’s top oil-producing country for two large companies — both with historic ties to Nigeria.

Transparency advocate Global Witness filed a complaint in June 2015 with the Milan Public Prosecutor providing evidence of Shell’s role in the deal, according to a report in LeadershipNG.

The nonprofit Global Witness says it works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, corruption and human rights abuses worldwide. It has offices in London and Washington, D.C.

The organization partnered with Nigerian activist, Dotun Oloko, and other anti-corruption campaigners who have been investigating the OPL 245 deal for several years, LeadershipNG reported.

According to a Global Witness investigation, when OPL 245 was sold in 1998 for $20 million, it went to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company secretly owned by then-oil minister, Dan Etete.

The block was then sold in 2011 for $1.1 billion to Shell and Eni, with the Nigerian government acting as middleman, according to the investigation.

“This sum is equivalent to 80 percent of (Nigeria’s) 2015 health budget, but it never reached state coffers,” Global Witness said Wednesday in a statement.

“Shell and Eni have always denied that they knew the money would ultimately go to Etete, despite evidence from Global Witness showing otherwise,” the statement said. “The Nigerian House of Representatives in 2014 called for the deal to be cancelled and declared it ‘contrary to the laws of Nigeria.'”

Transparency advocates said Shell and its partners in Nigeria may have exposed shareholders to a high level of risk in a corrupt system, UPI reported.

“Shell and Eni exposed their investors to massive risks and have been tainted by this theft from Nigerian citizens,” Global Witness Director Simon Taylor said in a statement.

Shell is the biggest Western investor in Nigeria’s oil sector, and has been doing business there for 80 years, according to WallStreetJournal. In 2015, almost 10 percent of Shell’s output was from Nigeria. The company sold some onshore assets in the Niger Delta that have been subject to attacks and theft.

Shell paid less than half of the $1.3 billion acquisition price for a 50 percent stake in the oil field, according to Italian court documents. The company has made large investments developing the field. Italian prosecutors suspect most of the money ended up being paid in bribes, potentially making Shell responsible for its part, the documents said, according to Italian daily Corriere della Sera. The newspaper on Wednesday reported the investigation into Shell’s role in the Nigeria deal.

By working with Italian energy company Eni, Shell has been stained by corruption, Taylor said, according to UPI:

Both companies are already under fire for their work in Nigeria. Amnesty International has expressed frustration over the legacy of oil spills in the Niger Delta region. The rights group said the two companies combined reported more than 550 spills in the area last year.

Shell defended its work in Nigeria, saying more than 100 spills reported in the region were the result of sabotage and theft.

Global Witness said Italian prosecutors have launched a formal corruption investigation into offenses tied to Nigeria oil production leases controlled by both companies.