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A key witness for the prosecution back peddled on Wednesday on previous testimony that he had seen evidence that oil majors Eni and Shell were involved in bribery over an oil deal in Nigeria, in the latest twist in the trial against the two oil companies in an Italian court.
Eni and Shell are on trial in Italy for knowing that an alleged payment of US$1.3 billion in bribes was made to the former Nigerian government back in 2011, for which Eni and Royal Dutch Shell secured exclusive rights to develop the now infamous oil block OPL-245 offshore Nigeria.
The 2011 acquisition of block OPL 245, according to Italian and Nigerian prosecutors, involved a transfer of money to personal accounts held by the Nigerian oil minister at the time.
The sum of the OPL 245 deal was US$1.3 billion, an investigation revealed, of which US$1.1 billion was used to bribe politicians and businessmen to secure the deal. Shell and Eni have always insisted that at the time, they were unaware of any wrongdoing.
Eni and Shell were ordered to stand trial in Milan under the Italian legislation that mandates companies be liable for crimes committed by directors and executives when a suspected unlawful conduct has benefited the legal entity.
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According to Bloomberg, Isaac Eke, a former high-ranking police officer in Nigeria, told the court on Wednesday that he could not corroborate an earlier testimony in a letter he sent to the court that he had shown photos of cash being taken to a private jet. Former Eni manager Vincenzo Armanna has claimed that a bodyguard, who was said to be Eke, at a villa of the Nigerian president at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, had shown him those photos.
But during his testimony in the Milan court today, Eke said that he hadn’t met Armanna until 2014, three years after the alleged events in 2011. Eke also said he had never set foot in the villa.
Eke was one of the key witnesses for the prosecution, and his backtracking on the testimony could help the defense teams of the two oil majors.
The trial in Milan is now entering its final stages, but other lawsuits are pending elsewhere over the same Nigerian oil deal. Shell, for one, faces prosecution from the Dutch authorities over the acquisition of block OPL 245.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.