Two US lawmakers seek fresh probe into OPL 245 deal

Adebari Oguntoye
Adebari Oguntoye

Two American lawmakers have asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) to reopen a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation into Shell and Eni regarding their 2011 purchase of rights to Nigeria’s oil prospecting licence (OPL) 245.

Maxine Waters and Joyce Beatty, US House of Representatives members, made the demand in a letter dated May 8 addressed to Merrick Garland, attorney general of the US, Department of Justice.

They alleged that Shell and Eni violated the FCPA by paying over $1.1 billion in bribes to Nigerian officials to secure the OPL 245 oil rights.

The DoJ previously investigated the deal and concluded that it had not found any evidence of corruption.

Also, Shell, Eni, and other defendants were cleared of corruption charges after a three-year trial in Italy.

The prosecutor has been demoted for allegedly hiding facts that would have exonerated the defendants during the trial.

In Nigeria, the FCT high court also exonerated all those charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

But the two lawmakers said Shell and Eni have continued to profit from their exploitation of the OPL 245 deal.

They said Eni has contested the Nigerian government’s decision to delay the conversion of their OPL to an oil mining licence.

“Eni’s legal challenge, filed at the International Centre for Settlement of Investor Disputes (ICSID) and based upon the corruptly acquired prospecting license and related Resolution Agreement, as well as the use of the original contract in arbitration proceedings, constitutes further violation of the FCPA,” the letter reads.

“The ICSID proceedings are currently suspended until May 23, 2024, with the agreement of the parties, suggesting that a settlement is being negotiated. Allegations have been made in the Nigerian press of further corruption relating to a settlement.”

The two lawmakers said the US has constantly demonstrated global leadership in the fight against foreign bribery, with the FCPA serving as model legislation for countries around the globe.

The reopening of the case would further illustrate the US dedication to “aggressively pursue foreign bribery cases,”  the lawmakers said, quoting the US Strategy on Countering Corruption.

They urged the attorney-general to leverage the potent anti-corruption law to address the issues in the case “and to send a powerful message that the US stands vigilant in its pursuit of corporate crime around the globe.”.

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