A corporate bribery trial in Milan billed as the biggest in history has been postponed. Court proceedings against oil companies Shell and Eni over corruption in the Nigerian oil sector will now only start in mid-May.
Oil giants Eni and Shell are going on trial in Milan only on May 14, AFP news agency reported, with court proceedings originally scheduled to start on Monday. The firms are charged with bribery and corruption in the purchase of an offshore oilfield in Nigeria.
The two companies stand accused of handing out bribes during the 2011 purchase of OPL245, an oil block estimated to hold 9 billion barrels of crude.
Both firms have denied the charges against them. "Eni expresses its full confidence in the judicial process and that the trial will ascertain and confirm the correctness and integrity of our conduct," the Italian company said in a statement.
Shell also said it believed the judges would conclude there was no case against them, adding "there is no place for bribery or corruption in our company."
But according to corruption watchdog Global Witness, the purchase agreement allegedly saw Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's former president, and Dan Etete, his former oil minister, pocket bribes.
Global Witness said the deal resulted in $1.1 billion (€894,000 million) being paid into an account in London opened by government officials and going directly to Etete, with another $210 million going to the government.
Email exchanges cited by the corruption watchdog suggest that Shell was aware the money was likely to be funneled to individuals, including Etete and Jonathan.
Nigeria's anti-graft agency EFCC filed corruption charges against Shell and Eni in March 2017, accusing 11 defendants.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had pledged to fight relentlessly against the "cancer of corruption" hitting Africa's largest oil producer.
But in a letter leaked in February from Justice Minister Abubakar Malami to Buhari, the minister asked the president to interrupt the EFCC investigations.
Malami expressed concern that the case did not contain enough evidence to bring the main defendants to justice and that a trial would be an embarrassment for the country and could put off potential investors.
hg/jd (AFP, AP)