BARELY, a week after the London court had dismissed the $1.1 billion Malabu case, involving the purchase of Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL)245, on grounds of lack of jurisdiction, the court in Milan, Italy, has adjourned a similar case ‘to a yet to be announced date’ because of the negative impact of coronavirus pandemic.
An investigation by Vanguard showed that the adjournment of the case earlier slated for May 14, 2020, has kept the parties – FG, Shell and Eni – waiting.
When contacted, Dr. Umar Jibrilu, media aide, office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, stated: “The case was initially slated for the 14th May, 2020, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been adjourned till a date to be communicated later.”
In an email to Vanguard, Shell stated: “We maintain that the 2011 settlement of long-standing legal disputes related to OPL 245 was a fully legal transaction with Eni and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), represented by the most senior officials of the relevant ministries. The FGN was a necessary party to this agreement, having created competing claims to the OPL 245 block by allocating it to two parties.
“We welcome the court’s finding that the Nigerian government is not entitled to bring these claims in England since it is already making the same claims in proceedings before the Tribunal of Milan. Based on our review of the Prosecutor of Milan’s file and all of the information and facts available to us, we do not believe that there is a case to answer in this matter.”
In another email, Eni, also stated: “Eni is pleased to note that the High Court of Justice in London rejected its jurisdiction on Opl245 matters, dismissing the lawsuit filed by the Federal Government of Nigeria. OPL 245, therefore, remains under jurisdiction of the Italian Court only, where the judgement is pending.”
It added: “Eni reminds that in October 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice and most recently the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission closed its investigations of Eni with respect to OPL 245 matters without taking any action.”
While the United Kingdom case was dismissed, a similar case in Italy is ongoing, with Milan prosecutors alleged bribes totalling around $1.1bn were paid to win the licence to explore the field which, because of disputes, had never entered into production.
Commenting on the development, Managing Partner, The Chancery Associates, Emeka Okwosa, said: “In future, we should vet cases properly, and undertake comprehensive due diligence enquiries before initiating any foreign action. We should weigh the pros and cons as well as follow due process.”