Nigeria escalates fight for oil block granted to Shell and Eni

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Nigeria is seeking damages as well as a declaration that it has the right to revoke the licence for a multibillion-dollar oil block granted to Royal Dutch Shell and Eni, in an escalation of a long-running dispute between Africa’s largest crude producer and two of its biggest foreign investors.

The government “seeks to trace and recover the money paid as bribes” and an entitlement “to rescind the grant of the OPL 245 licence”, a prized exploration and production block that Shell and Eni bought in a 2011 deal, the government said in a legal claim filed in April.

The Anglo-Dutch and Italian companies paid $1.3bn for the block, but Nigeria believes the undeveloped deepwater block could be worth at least $3.5bn and damages should now be calculated on that basis, documents filed in the commercial division of the High Court in London said.

The claim in the English courts alleges that Shell and Eni “both paid bribes” either directly or indirectly and senior executives at both companies “received bribes (or were intended to receive bribes)” as part of the 2011 deal.
Nigerian and Italian prosecutors have alleged that the companies knew that most of the money would be funnelled to corrupt government officials and executives. Both companies, current and former executives deny any wrongdoing.

In his first comments since the documents were released by the court, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, Nigeria’s minister of state for petroleum, said the government was simply keeping all options open.

“If we come back and find that the parties were not transparent, and this wasn’t awarded transparently, then obviously the government has an option to decide to pull that [licence] back,” he said.

Mr Kachikwu said the government was focused on reaching a resolution to the dispute. “The participants in this are