(Adds Eni statement, Global Witness report)
By Libby George
LONDON, April 11 Royal Dutch Shell was
aware that some of the payments it made to Nigeria for rights to
an oilfield under a 2011 deal would go to a company associated
with former Nigerian oil minister and convicted money launderer
Dan Etete, it said in a statement to Reuters.
Shell spokesman Andy Norman said the group "always knew" the
Nigerian government would compensate the company, Malabu Oil and
Gas, "to settle its claim on the block".
The admission came as the deal and what Shell and its
partner on the block, Eni, knew about the payments made
to secure it, are being investigated by courts in Milan and
The licence had been awarded to Malabu in 1998 under
then-President Sani Abacha, though a successive government
revoked the licence. Malabu appealed that decision, and the
status of the licence was uncertain at the time Shell finalised
the deal with the Nigerian government in 2011.
Shell's acknowledgement that it always knew that the
Nigerian government would pay some of the money to Malabu also
follows a report released this week by campaign group Global
Witness, which said it had proof that Shell executives were told
payments would go not only to Malabu but also to a string of
Nigerian business people. Reuters could not independently
confirm these claims.
Shell had previously said in statements to Reuters only that
its payments from the deal went to the Nigerian government.
"Over time it became clear to us that Etete was involved in
Malabu and that the only way to resolve the impasse (over
disputed ownership claims) through a negotiated settlement was
to engage with Etete and Malabu, whether we liked it or not,"
Etete was convicted of money laundering in a 2007 French
case related to his time in the Nigerian government.
Reuters has been unable to contact Etete to seek comment
after Shell's statement admitting it knew that part of its
payment would go to Malabu.
Norman added that the company believes the settlement was a
fully legal transaction with the Nigerian government but did not
provide further detail.
Courts in Nigeria and Italy are investigating the purchase
of the offshore block, known as OPL 245. Shell and Italy's Eni
paid $1.3 billion for the rights to the block, which industry
estimates say could hold more than 9 billion barrels of oil.
Italian prosecutors have asked for Eni chief Claudio
Descalzi to be sent to trial over alleged corruption related to
the purchase of the block. Eni has said that neither the company
nor Descalzi were involved in any illicit conduct.
A Nigerian court ordered the block temporarily seized in
January at the request of the country's Economic and Financial
Crimes Commission, but the move was overturned.
An Eni spokesman on Tuesday again denied any wrongdoing by
the company or its personnel.
(Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos, Stephen
Jewkes in Milan and Karolin Schaps in London; Editing by Dale
Hudson and David Goodman)