LAGOS, May 8 (Reuters) - A Nigerian civil rights group launched a legal case on Tuesday aimed at forcing the government to revoke a disputed 2011 oilfield deal at the centre of a string of international corruption investigations.
The case, heard at a court in the commercial hub Lagos, relates to the purchase of the offshore OPL 245 oilfield in Nigeria by oil majors Royal Dutch Shell and Eni in 2011. The field has estimated reserves of 9 billion barrels.
At the core of the case is a $1.3 billion payment from Shell and Eni to secure the block from Malabu Oil and Gas, allegedly controlled by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete.
Rasheed Adegoke, lawyer to Human & Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), said the rights group decided to go to court after it became aware of a trial in Milan relating to corruption allegations over the oilfield purchase.
HEDA is a rights group at the forefront of Nigeria’s corruption fight.
“After the judgement in Milan the Nigerian government refused to do something about it so we decided to go to court. What we are saying is that the attorney general ... should revoke the license granted to ... Mr. Dan Etete, when he was minister,” Adegoke told Reuters after the hearing in Lagos.
In December, Shell and Eni were ordered to stand trial over alleged corruption in Nigeria. Milan prosecutors alleged bribes were paid to win the licence to explore the field which never entered into production.
Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami, was absent in court on Tuesday. However, Etete’s lawyer told the court that his client would seek to join the case to defend ownership of the oilfield, Adegoke said. The case was adjourned to June 13.
Etete was Nigeria’s oil minister at the time of the deal and was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. He could not be reached for comment.
Another local court has set a hearing over the same oilfield for June 18, after the country’s financial crimes watchdog filed a case accusing several former government officials, former and current managers at Shell and Eni of being part of a scheme to defraud the Nigerian government.
The Nigerian court case has been repeatedly delayed as defendants have failed to appear for hearings.
Both Eni and Shell have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in relation to the deal, which is also being investigated in Italy and the Netherlands, where Eni and Shell are respectively based. (Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Susan Fenton)