An Italian judge has ordered a Nigerian businessman, Alhai Aliyu Abubakar, to stand trial for alleged international corruption relating to an oil graft case involving Eni and Shell, a judicial source and his lawyer said on Wednesday. 

Milan prosecutors alleged that Abubakar played a central role in one of the oil industry's biggest scandals in years, handing out more than $500m in cash to powerful Nigerian Government officials.

The Italian prosecutors alleged that Eni and Shell bought the oilfield in 2011 knowing that most of the purchase price would be siphoned off to middlemen and local politicians.

The money is alleged to come out of the $1.3bn licence fee paid by Eni and Shell for access to the OPL-245 offshore oilfield located in Niger Delta.

Abubakar's Italian lawyer, Davide Pozzi, said his client, who lives in Nigeria, denies any wrongdoing in the case.

"Mr Abubakar will clarify his position in the appropriate place," he said.

Both firms and managers accused in the Milan court case including Eni's current chief executive, Claudio Descalzi, have denied any wrongdoing.

Abubakar, an influential Nigerian businessman, was already under investigation but prosecutors were unable to locate him to serve the necessary deeds to put him on trial until he appeared in the case as a witness via a video linkup in February 2019.

The start of his trial had been scheduled for May 14 before a Milan court, Pozzi said.

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