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Nigeria loses bid to hear Shell case in England

The Nigerian government has expressed disappointment that a High Court ruling in England has opted not to hear a civil claim against Shell, Eni and Energy Venture Partners (EVP), over the OPL 245 case.

Justice Butcher ruled against the Nigerian government’s bid, largely on the basis that similar claims were being held in Italy.

The cases – in London and Milan – focus on whether Shell and Eni paid a $1.3 billion to the Nigerian government, a substantial amount of which ended up being paid out as bribes.

“The Federal Republic of Nigeria continues to support the criminal proceedings under way in Milan and maintains that the separate civil proceedings in London have an entirely different legal basis. As such, we intend to seek permission to appeal this decision,” a representative said.

The government said it had “full confidence” that the three companies would be held to account “for their actions regarding the fraudulent and corrupt scheme”.

Nigeria is going ahead with its case in England against JP Morgan, over the bank’s role in the OPL 245 deal.

“It is important to note the court has dismissed all other arguments deployed by the Defendants, and indeed a large number were dropped by the Defendants themselves prior to the hearing,” the Nigerian representative said.

The defendants had asked the court to find that the English court was not the right place to hear the case, under article 29 of the Brussels Regulation. Butcher found for this line of reasoning on the basis that the Italian case against the companies is under way, in Milan.

The Italian investigation began in late 2016 and the Nigerian government joined this case in March 2018. Moves to also hear the case began in November 2018.

In his ruling, Butcher gave the primary reason of Nigeria wishing to hold a case in England as “to protect itself against limitation arguments should the [Milan prosecutor] end the Italian prosecution. I have been told that there is no indication that the PPM will take that course.”

It would not be unjust, he said, that Nigeria cannot pursue its case in England. “Had it wished to proceed here, it could have not joined the Italian proceedings or dropped those claims before issuing proceedings here,” the judge said.

“Nigerians deserve to see justice done in this case that involves allegations of a vast bribery scheme involving two of world’s biggest oil and gas companies,” Global Witness’ Barnaby Pace told Energy Voice.

“Today’s judgement shifts the focus back to the massive criminal trial of Shell and Eni that is still continuing in Italy and we expect will conclude later this year”. The Milan case was suspended in March, owing to coronavirus, but may resume in the summer.

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