By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA Feb 14 (Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell and Italy’s Eni have asked a Nigerian court to lift a temporary forfeiture of a long-disputed oilfield, the firms said on Tuesday.
A Nigerian court last month ordered the temporary forfeiture of assets and the transfer of operations of the OPL 245 field owned by Shell and Eni, among others, to the federal government.
The Nigerian court case is the latest of several inquiries, following those by Dutch and Italian authorities, into the 2011 purchase of the OPL 245 block which could hold up to 9.23 billion barrels of oil, according to industry figures.
In a court filing, Shell said Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had conducted “a gross abuse of process and an abuse of power” to get a court order asking for the forfeiture, according to a document obtained by Reuters.
The commission “misrepresented material facts in obtaining the ex-parte order” and it was “in the interest of justice that the ex-parte order be discharged,” the document said.
According to court papers seen last month, the inquiry is investigating whether the $1.3 billion purchase of OPL 245 involved “acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering.”
Spokesmen for Eni and Shell confirmed both companies had filed motions to lift the court order, but declined further comment.
The Nigerian court will hear the case on Feb. 27, judicial sources said.
In a statement issued later on Tuesday, Shell said it received notice of a request for indictment related to the settlement of disputes over the OPL 245 block.
A tribunal in Milan has fixed the preliminary hearing for April 20, the company said.
“We don’t believe a request for indictment is justified and we are confident that this will be determined in the next stages of the proceedings. We continue to take this matter seriously and co-operate with the authorities,” Shell added.
The oilfield’s licence was initially awarded in 1998 by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company in which he held shares.
It was then sold for $1.3 billion in 2011 to Eni and Shell. According to documents from a British court, Malabu received $1.09 billion from the sale, while the rest went to the Nigerian government.
Earlier this month, Eni backed CEO Claudio Descalzi after judicial sources said prosecutors had asked for him to be tried over alleged corruption in Nigeria.
Italian prosecutors in December wrapped up a probe into the head of Eni, its former CEO, the company itself and Shell over alleged corruption surrounding the licence’s acquisition, sources told Reuters at the time. (Reporting by Camilus Eboh, additional reporting by Libby George in London and Vijaykumar Vedala in Bengaluru, writing by Ulf Laessing; editing by Ruth Pitchford, G Crosse)
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