Oil multinational, Eni, has said it submitted an application for the conversion of the controversial Oil Prospecting Licence 245 to an Oil Mining Licence, adding that it had invested about $2.5 billion in the licence till date.
Eni stated this in its reaction to reports that its licence for the controversial Nigerian offshore OPL 245 oil block had expired.
A civil society campaigner, Global Witness, had said Eni confirmed the development in response to questions at their 2021 annual general meeting.
But Eni clarified that it had plans to convert the OPL 245 to OML 245 but the Nigerian government had “neither granted nor rejected its subsidiary, Nigerian Agip Exploration's application".
The company said, “With regards to the statement issued by some NGOs on Nigerian Opl245, Eni would like to point out that the Nigerian Government’s position on the licence is currently subject to an arbitration proceeding in Washington at International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), commenced in 2020.
“In fact, Eni (through its subsidiary NAE) submitted its application for conversion of the OPL (Oil Prospecting Licence) into an OML (Oil Mining Licence), and the Nigerian Government confirmed its support to the conversion and the exercise of the back in rights included in the 2011 agreement:
“In this regard, we confirm that there are no legal impediments to the completion of the conversion process. However, to date the Government has neither granted, nor rejected, NAE’s application for conversion. Please note that the investments made by Eni and Shell to date in OPL245 amount to $2.5 billion.
“Furthermore, the Milan and London Court proceedings on OPL245 have been concluded without ascertaining any international corruption activity, while neither in the OPL245 trial in Milan, nor in other proceedings, the Government of Nigeria has challenged the validity of the licence.”
It had earlier been reported that the OPL 245, estimated to hold 482 million barrels of economically recoverable oil, expired on May 11th, ten years after Shell and Eni paid $1.3 billion for the license in a deal trailed by criminal investigations and trials.
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and Eni through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
From accounts controlled by Etete, about half the money ($520 million) went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil
Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and Eni.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by ex-president Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
In March 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari rejected Eni’s request that Nigeria convert the licence to a fresh oil mining license, arguing that no further correspondence would be considered until criminal and civil court proceedings in Milan and London related to the 2011 deal had been concluded.
In March, an Italian court declared Shell, Eni and their managers acquitted in the Malabu scandal.
They were all acquitted by the court in a trial that saw officials of the oil giants battle to prove their innocence. Several former executives of the companies were also cleared of wrongdoing, including Malcolm Brinded and Paolo Scaroni.