Nigeria has decided to withdraw a $1.1 billion civil lawsuit against Italian energy company Eni SpA. This decision marks the conclusion of a prolonged legal battle in Italian courts, centered on accusations of corruption linked to an oil-field agreement. The West African nation’s Ministry of Justice plans to drop these claims against Eni unconditionally and with immediate effect, as stated in a letter obtained by Bloomberg.
This withdrawal is scheduled to take place no later than November 17. Nigeria has also chosen to irrevocably relinquish any future legal actions in Italy against Eni, its subsidiaries, and present and former executives concerning the rights for Oil Prospecting License 245, known as OPL 245.
Eni, acknowledging the receipt of this letter, expressed its readiness to collaborate with the Nigerian government in transitioning the prospecting license into one that will facilitate the development of the oil block. However, the Nigerian Ministry of Justice has not yet commented on this matter.
OPL 245, stalled for over a decade due to various legal entanglements and trials, is believed to be one of the most lucrative oil concessions in Nigeria, with Eni estimating its recoverable reserves at 560 million barrels. The future development of OPL 245 by Eni and its partner Shell Plc hinges on resolving other ongoing claims, including arbitration by Eni at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and domestic litigation in Nigeria.
Previously, Eni, Shell, and some of their current and former executives were definitively acquitted in a Milan criminal court, where they faced accusations of facilitating bribes through the $1.1 billion payment for acquiring OPL 245.
Despite this acquittal, Nigeria continued a civil lawsuit, demanding $3.5 billion combined from Eni and Shell, alleging this sum represented the true value of the license they purchased in 2011. The complex history of OPL 245 involves its initial award to Malabu Oil and Gas, owned by then-oil minister Dan Etete and associates of former military ruler Sani Abacha, and subsequent legal disputes over ownership and payments.
Now, with Nigeria withdrawing its case against Eni, the country aims to focus on boosting its oil production, particularly by bringing its dormant assets into operation as swiftly as possible. This move to drop the case against Eni could be a strategic step towards achieving this objective.
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