LONDON – Italian prosecutors have requested to charge four former executives at oil giant Shell over an alleged $1.1 billion bribery scheme in Nigeria.
The Milan Public Prosecutor's Office has issued a formal Request for Indictment on bribery charges for the former employees, who have been named, and for the company itself.
In the Italian justice system, a judge now has to rule on whether or not to take the charges forward.
However, Global Witness, a campaign group providing evidence to the prosecution, says its lawyers have recommended that this request is the equivalent of charging.
In April, Shell admitted it had dealt with convicted money launderer and former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete in relation to a $1.1 billion payment for a Nigerian oil block in 2011, although it had previously claimed it only paid the Nigerian government.
This came a day after the publication of an investigation by Global Witness and Finance Uncovered, which alleged that Shell executives and Italian oil company Eni had known the money was being paid to Etete via his front company, and that it would be used to bribe Nigerian officials.
The four named individuals include the former Head of Upstream, Malcolm Brinded, who remains on Shell's Board of Trustees. Named alongside Brinded are Peter Robinson, former vice president for Shell's sub-Saharan Africa operations, and former Shell employees and MI6 agents Guy Colegate and John Copleston.
"This could be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, and a watershed moment for the oil industry," said Barnaby Pace of Global Witness. "The top brass of the UK's largest company is in the dock after it finally admitted dealing with a convicted money launderer.
"There can be no clearer sign that wholesale change is needed. Shell must first apologise to the Nigerian people, then take clear steps to reassuring investors and the broader public that this won't happen again," he said.
A Shell spokesperson said, “based on our review of the Prosecutor of Milan's file and all of the information and facts available to Shell, we do not believe that there is a basis to prosecute Shell. Furthermore, we are not aware of any evidence to support a case against any former or current Shell employee.
“Shell attaches the greatest importance to business integrity. It’s one of our core values and is a central tenet of the Business Principles that govern the way we do business. We have clear anti-bribery and corruption policies and a code of conduct. All employees around the world are expected to uphold these principles and comply with our policies and code – failure to do so will result in consequences up to and including dismissal."
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