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Judge jails Nigerian, Italian in Malabu oil scandal

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An Italian judge in a first ruling yesterday sentenced two defendants to a four-year jail term over their involvement in one of Nigeria’s biggest oil industry’s corruption scandals.

Nigerian Emeka Obi and Italian Gianluca Di Nardo were found guilty of international graft but their lawyers declined to comment, according to Reuters.

The long-running case revolves around the 2011 purchase by Italian Oil Company, Eni, and Anglo-Dutch peer, Royal Dutch Shell, of OPL 245 offshore oil block (popularly known as Malabu oil scandal) for about $1.3 billion.

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Prosecutors had alleged that Obi received a mandate from former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dan Etete, to find a buyer for the facility, collecting $114 million. Di Nardo, they said, took $24 million of the amount for linking Obi with the Italian oil major.

Milan prosecutors also claimed that bribes totaling around $1.1 billion were paid to win the licence to explore the oilfield, which, because of disputes, has never entered into production.

The main trial – which besides Eni and Shell also involves Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi and four ex-Shell managers, including former Shell Foundation Chairman, Malcolm Brinded – is expected to drag on for months.

But Obi and Di Nardo, accused of being middlemen and taking illegal kickbacks, had asked for a separate fast-track trial, which, under Italian law, allows sentences to be cut by a third.

Yesterday’s ruling will not tie the court’s hand in the main trial.

But Barnaby Pace, an anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness, said: “This judgment will send shivers down the corporate spines of the oil industry.”

In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for Shell said neither Obi nor Di Nardo worked on behalf of the company, adding that it was waiting to see the fast-track judge’s written decision.

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Meanwhile, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has said it recorded a trade surplus of N17.16 billion in April this year.

The development was attributed to revenues from sales of crude oil and petroleum products as well as the significant performance by the refineries, particularly the Port Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC).

The information was contained in the corporation’s 33rd monthly Financial and Operations Report for April released yesterday in Abuja.

The document showed a N5.43 billion improvement representing 46.29 per cent over the figure recorded the previous month.

Similarly, the country achieved a 48.21 per cent reduction in pipeline vandalism, falling to 166 from the 224-point tally in March.

NNPC, however, noted that the feat came through a combined higher performance by the upstream, midstream (refineries) and downstream sectors as well as a reduction in corporate headquarters’ operational expenditure.

“This enhanced performance is attributable to robust revenues from sales of crude oil and petroleum products by the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited (NPDC) and Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC) as well as the upsurge in refineries’ performance, particularly the Port Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC),” the report stated.


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