In March 2021, after a 3-year trial, the Milan Court of First Instance acquitted Shell, Eni and 11 other defendants of international corruption in the acquisition of the OPL 245 oil field in Nigeria.
The judges held that the prosecution had failed to prove its case that over $1 billion had been paid in bribes to Nigerian government officials and politicians to acquire the license for the field, one of the largest in Africa.
Since the acquittal, however, the Italian press has been awash with allegations that, if upheld, cast grave doubts on the integrity of the judgment.
Concerns over the probity of the trail first surfaced in February 2020 when the Milan Prosecutor sought to admit a statement by Piero Amara, a former external lawyer for a number of Eni’s managers, that Eni had conducted surveillance of the prosecutors, key witnesses and the judges in order to discredit witnesses or gain an advantage in the proceedings. The full transcript of Amara's statement was not made public - large parts were blacked out - and the judges refused to admit the evidence.
Two days after the judgment, the Italian newspaper Il Riformista reported that Amara had also alleged that Eni's lawyers had "preferential" access to OPL 245 judges. This is denied by Eni, which has an ongoing case against Amara for defamation.
According to Il Riformista, Amara told investigators from the Milan prosecutors’ office that two Eni lawyers, Michele Bianco and Alessandra Geraci, as well as two attorneys acting for Eni in the Milan trail “had access” to Presiding Judge Tremolada.
The allegations were passed to the authorities in Brescia, who are responsible for investigating allegations against the Milan judiciary. Il Riformista reports that both Bianco and Geraci denied Amara’s allegations. The investigation was closed without charges being bought. The Milan prosecutors are still investigating Amara and his network inside Eni.
Other allegations have followed. The Italian press has reported that the lawyer of Eni’s CEO and senior judges belonged to an alleged Masonic Lodge. The secret group is currently under investigation in Brescia and Perugia to assess whether the accusation are concrete and whether the Lodge was able to influence the nomination of judges and prosecutors in Italy.
In response to Amara’s claims that the integrity of the Milan judges was in doubt, the Head of the Milan Prosecutors Office, Francesco Greco, issued a statement on 24 March 2021, confirming that the Milan Prosecutors in the case, Fabio de Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro, had been subject to «intimidation».
Greco’s statement also confirmed that there had been attempts to «delegitimise the Milan prosecutor». However since the Opl 245 verdict in March 2021, the tensions among the Milan prosecutors have erupted into an open confrontation. One of the prosecutor investigating Piero Amara, Paolo Storari, accused his colleagues and his superiors of obstructing the course of justice against Amara. Storari claimed his colleagues Fabio De Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro failed to disclose important evidence to the Milan OPL 245 trial that is said to exonerate Eni’s managers.
The Head of Milan’s judges, Roberto Bichi, has also confirmed in a statement dated 29th March, two weeks after the Oil 245 verdict, that «a recent significant trial [was] completed despite ascertained attempts of external influence».
Those attempts centred on the activities of Amara and a former prosecutor Giancarlo Longo, a magistrate in Siracusa, Sicily, who were found guilty in 2020 of conspiring to “pollute” several investigations, including the OPL 245 investigation carried out by the Milan Prosecutor. Amara is currently in jail.
Amara was accused of bribing Longo to set up a fake investigation into critics of ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi with the aim of protecting Descalzi.
The complaint which triggered the fake investigation was submitted anonymously to Longo but the investigation disclosed it was submitted by an energy trader close to Amara. The anonymous document also accused Bruno Cova (one of Shell's lawyers in the OPL 245 trial) and Luca Santa Maria (one of the lawyers who defended Eni manager Vincenzo Armanna) of being the contacts for «members of the Nigerian secret services who would have been responsible for sending to the members of the Board of Directors of ENI S.p.A. (and not only to them), a list of the names of the members of the Board of Directors of ENI S.p.A., anonymous e-mails containing slanderous hypotheses against Claudio Descalzi».
The fake conspiracy was blown apart when Amara and Longo were themselves investigated by magistrates from Messina, Rome and Milan. When interviewed, Amara stated that he had been informed that Eni «carried out an information-gathering activity in respect of members of the Board of Directors aimed at acquiring useful information in order to discredit people.»
According to Amara, information was also acquired «on those who could have headed the judicial panels of the OPL245 trial.»
Eni’s former legal counsel, Massimo Mantovani, is reported to have been suspected by the police of aiding and abetting Amara. Mantovani denies the allegation.
During the OPL 245 trial, the Prosecutor also alleged that Descalzi personally attempted “to pollute” the proceedings by allegedly sending a senior Eni manager to bribe former Eni manager Vincenzo Armanna to withdraw allegations against Descalzi. Armanna confirmed these allegations in the Milan court.
Eni and Descalzi have denied any wrongdoing in the Siracusa scandal and, in 2019, attempted to sue Amara and Armanna for defamation.
Request of the prosecutors to interrogate Amara and Granata (https://aleph.occrp.org/entities/63099944.4a80164ec04aef5d607f0da02bf16f4dee2e83ef)
Search decree issued by the Milan prosecutor's office against Eni managers and Piero Amara https://aleph.occrp.org/entities/63099959.318d1317621f561e4915b5fc3057375fd5d2b9cd#mode=view&page=5