An English court in a virtual sitting on Friday threw out a $1.1 billion case filed by Nigeria against oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni over the OPL 245 oilfield.
Justice Christopher Butcher, the judge assigned to the matter, while giving his ruling at the virtual hearing today, held that the court does not have jurisdiction on the case, giving a set back to the long standing trial on the Malabu oil deal of 2011.
The Nigerian government filed the case in 2018 at a commercial court in London alleging payments made by the companies to get the OPL 245 oilfield licence in 2011 were used for kickbacks and bribes.
Justice Butcher said the High Court “must decline jurisdiction over the action against” Shell and the other defendants.
Shell and Eni had asked the court to decline jurisdiction as the Italian case against the oil companies was still in progress.
The judgment does not affect the separate charges against the companies in an Italian court.
Speaking on the ruling, a spokeswoman for Shell said the company welcomed the decision.
“We maintain that the 2011 settlement 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,” she said.
A spokesman for Nigeria said in a statement said it was “naturally disappointed the Court has declined jurisdiction over its civil claim”.
“Nigeria continues to support the criminal proceedings underway in Milan and maintains that the separate civil proceedings in London have an entirely different legal basis we intend to seek permission to appeal this decision,” the spokesman said.
The OPL 245 oilfield is also central to a corruption trial in Milan in which former and current Shell and Eni officials are on the bench, as well as court proceedings Nigeria started against JP Morgan, which processed some of the payments in question.
The bank has said it considers the allegations against it “unsubstantiated and without merit”.
In 2011, the federal government brokered a deal between Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, the original allotees of OPL 245, and Shell/ENI who wanted to buy the oil block from the Nigerian company.
While Shell and ENI paid a signature bonus of $210 million to the federal government, they paid $1.1 billion to buy 100 percent interest in the oil block from Malabu.
The entire $1.3 billion was transferred to the account of the federal government in London, UK, from where Malabu was paid its $1.1 billion.
It was then alleged that bribes were paid to officials of the government to facilitate the deal, which is considered unfavourable to Nigeria as the value of the oil block is estimated to be worth much more than what was paid for it. Eni and Shell have since denied the bribery allegations.
With the case in Milan, Italy still on the table, Shell spokeswoman said that, based on the company’s review of the Prosecutor of Milan’s file, it did not believe there was a case to answer.