In a significant development, the Federal Government of Nigeria has finalized its decision to withdraw civil claims amounting to $1.1 billion against Eni SpA, marking the conclusion of a protracted legal dispute in Italian courts. The allegations of corruption revolved around an oil field deal known as Oil Prospecting License 245 (OPL 245).
The Ministry of Justice, in a letter obtained by Bloomberg, announced the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of the claims before Italy’s highest court, with the deadline set no later than November 17. The letter also stated the government’s irrevocable waiver of any further legal action in Italy against Eni, its affiliates, and current and past officers regarding rights for OPL 245.
Eni acknowledged receipt of the letter and expressed its readiness, in collaboration with the Nigerian government, to explore the necessary steps for converting the prospective license into one that facilitates the development of the oil block.
According to Bloomberg, the Ministry of Justice has not provided an immediate response to requests for comment.
Operations at the OPL 245 oil block have been at a standstill for over a decade due to a series of trials and legal disputes. The area is considered one of the potentially richest concessions in Nigeria, with Eni’s estimates suggesting recoverable reserves of 560 million barrels.
The resolution of additional claims, such as arbitration proceedings initiated by Eni at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and ongoing litigation within Nigeria, may determine whether Eni and its partner, Shell Plc, can proceed with the development of OPL 245.
Last year, Eni, Shell, and some of their former and current managers were definitively acquitted in a criminal case in Milan. The case alleged that they were aware that a significant portion of the $1.1 billion paid for OPL 245 would be distributed as bribes. Despite the criminal verdict, a civil suit persisted, with Nigeria seeking combined compensation of $3.5 billion from Eni and Shell, asserting that the amount reflected the actual value of the license purchased in 2011 by the two companies. The withdrawal of the $1.1 billion civil claims now marks a crucial turn in this complex legal saga.