The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has ended its investigation of Eni over the OPL 245 affair and Algeria, the Italian company has said, without taking any further action.
The DoJ, in comments reported by Reuters, said the implication that the inquiry into OPL 245 had been halted owing to a lack of evidence was “misleading”. The US has reserved the right to re-open its investigation if circumstances change. The DoJ has stepped back from the case while a court in Milan prosecutes Eni and Shell.
Eni had reported itself to the US authorities over OPL 245, which focuses on alleged misdoings in Nigeria, and in Algeria following investigations from the Milan Public Prosecutor. Eni’s annual report said it had informed both the DoJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but gave no comment on whether the SEC had also closed out its investigation. The company has not responded to requests for clarification at the time of going to press.
Eni said that “neither the company nor its management” had been involved in the alleged corrupt activities around OPL 245. The company had commissioned an investigation in 2017 into its activities by a US law company, which found no evidence of corruption on the transaction. It said that it believed the charges being considered in Milan would be found to be groundless.
The Italian company modified its statement, which had originally suggested the DoJ had halted its investigation over a lack of evidence.”Eni’s misleading statement to the market should raise serious questions,” said Global Witness’ Barnaby Pace.
Shell and Eni acquired OPL 245 in 2011, paying a signature bonus of $1.3 billion to the Nigerian government. Abuja then appears to have distributed some of the cash to various well-connected individuals. Some of the witnesses in the Milan case have even implicated Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Jonathan. A recorded conversation of high-ranking Shell officials in 2016 flagged some worries about potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations.
Eni also said the Milan court had previously acquitted it of wrongdoing around its activities in Algeria. The accusations around the Algerian case include a contract between Saipem and Sonatrach, over the construction of the GK3 gas pipeline in addition to work on the Menzel Ledjmet East (MLE) field. Saipem was previously a subsidiary of Eni.
While the DoJ decision to stop its investigation is clearly a positive development for Eni, the company is under intense scrutiny domestically. Last week, it had to deny accusations of a conflict of interest between its CEO Claudio Descalzi and the company’s business in Congo Brazzaville.
Meanwhile, the Milan court continues to probe the OPL 245 affair. A federal court in Geneva has recently ruled that a suitcase full of documents seized in 2016 from Nigerian businessman Emeka Obi can be sent to the Milan court – and to Dutch prosecutors.
Obi was a middleman involved in the deal and was sent to prison for four years in September 2018, who unwittingly triggered much of the interest in the deal as a result of a lawsuit that he filed in London in 2013. Obi had complained that he had not received his fair share of proceeds from the 2011 sale.