Four senior executives of Royal Dutch Shell have been charged by an Italian court for their role in a bribery scheme involving a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete, that deprived Nigeria of over $1 billion.

Those charged include former Executive Director for Upstream International, Malcolm Brinded; former Vice President of Shell’s sub-Saharan Africa operations, Peter Robinson; and Guy Colegate and John Copleston, former Shell employees and MI6 agents. The four executives were charged alongside Shell.

The Milan court’s decision came after Shell admitted that it knew that part of its payment of over $1 billion for a Nigerian oil block, OPL 245, would go to former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete, a convicted money launderer.

In April 2017, two investigative journalism organizations, Global Witness and Finance Uncovered, revealed that Shell had knowledge that part of its $1.1 billion payment would go to Mr. Etete, contrary to earlier claims that it had only paid the Nigerian government. After the report on Shell’s involvement in the bribery scheme was published, the oil company took a U-turn and acknowledged that it had dealt with Mr. Etete through his front company, Malabu, in 2007.

Mr. Etete, who served as petroleum minister under former military dictator Sani Abacha, had awarded the OPL 245 block to his front company, Malabu. He was later convicted of money laundering in France.

In December 2016, the Milan Public Prosecutor said former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was also involved in the scheme. According to the prosecutor, $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to Mr. Jonathan and other members of his government.

Following Shell's acknowledgment that it had dealt with a convicted money launderer, Italian authorities slammed the four oil executives with bribery charges. Mr. Brinded has since stepped down from his post a Chairman of the Board of Trustees due to the legal action.

“This could be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, and a watershed moment for the oil industry. The top brass of the UK’s largest company is in the dock after it finally admitted dealing with a convicted money launderer. There can be no clearer sign that wholesale change is needed. Shell must first apologize to the Nigerian people, then take clear steps to reassure investors and the broader public that this won’t happen again,” said Barnaby Pace of Global Witness.

“These charges are a clear signal that it is no longer business as usual for oil companies in Nigeria. It’s now time for the Dutch and British authorities to follow Italy’s lead and hold their biggest company to account,” said Olanrewaju Suraju, of Human and Environmental Development Agenda of Nigeria.

Shell flow station in Nigeria

 

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