The Nigerian Malabu oilfield sold to Eni and Royal Dutch Shell was legally “perfect” and corruption free, the lawyer representing former embattled Nigerian minister for petroleum resources, Dan Etete said yesterday.

The lawyer, Antonio Secci, also told a Milan court that the prosecutors in the case had been unable to show exactly what role Etete played in the alleged corruption of Nigerian public officials – if he had corrupted politicians or had simply been an intermediary between the two majors and the Abuja government.

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Eni and Shell acquired the offshore OLP 245 field in 2011 for about $1.3 billion from Malabu, a company owned by the former Nigerian oil minister.

Prosecutors allege that about $1.1 billion of that money was siphoned off to politicians and middlemen, half of it to Etete himself.

Shell says the 2011 agreement was a settlement of long-standing litigation, following the previous allocation of the block by the Nigerian government to Shell and Malabu.

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Secci told the court the money had first been paid into an escrow account owned by the Nigerian government before then being transferred to Malabu “without any corruption (involving Nigerian public officials) emerging.”

He called for his client to be acquitted. Besides Eni and Shell, another 13 people, including current Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi, are involved in the long-running graft case.

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All the defendants have denied any wrongdoing, saying the purchase price was paid into an official Nigerian government account with all subsequent transfers being beyond their control.
Defence lawyers for the former Shell managers involved in the case will be heard in the trial on Dec. 9.

Chibisi Ohakah, Abuja

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