An Italian judge acquitted Shell of corruption in the acquisition of operating rights for an oil field off the coast of Nigeria. The oil and gas company, together with the Italian oil company Eni, was prosecuted because money would have been channelled away to politicians and intermediaries.
The two companies paid around €1.3 billion for the oil field in 2011. The then Nigerian government channelled the amount to a company owned by a former oil minister who had been convicted of money laundering. Shell would have known beforehand that the money would end up there, but the multinational has always contradicted that.
The verdict preceded a trial of more than three years. In addition to fines of 900,000 euros for the two oil companies, the prosecutors demanded prison sentences for three top men. Against former Shell top man Malcolm Brinded, seven years and four months had been demanded. He regulated the operating rights at the time of the transaction. Eight years in prison was demanded against top man Descalzi of Eni and former top man Scaroni, but all three have been acquitted.
Shell top man Ben van Beurden welcomes the verdict, but calls the trial “a difficult learning experience”. For example, it is important not only whether Shell follows the letter of the law properly, but also whether “the broader expectations of society” are respected, according to Van Beurden.
On the contrary, Nigeria is disappointed and surprised at the acquittal. “We want all those involved in this fraud case to be held accountable,” the government states in a statement. Nigeria is considering appealing.
In January, Shell was held liable in another case involving Nigeria. The company has to pay compensation to four Nigerian farmers for oil spills, resulting in the loss of agricultural land and fishing areas.