Royal Dutch Shell and Italy’s Eni have self-reported themselves to the American Department of Justice on the OPL 245 lawsuit brought against it by Nigeria.
According to Reuters News, have voluntarily filed to U.S. authorities internal probes into how they acquired a giant field in Nigeria as the companies seek to fight corruption allegations in Europe and Africa.
The filings, to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), do not mean U.S. authorities are investigating Shell or Eni.
But the move shows the companies are trying to preempt questions from the United States as they face one of the oil industry’s biggest-ever graft trials in Italy, to begin in May in Milan, a pending trial in Nigeria and an investigation in the Netherlands.
The case revolves around the purchase of a huge block off oil-rich Nigeria, known as OPL 245, which holds an estimated 9 billion barrels in reserves.
Italian prosecutors allege that bribes were paid in an effort to secure rights to the block in 2011. A number of top executives from both companies – including Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi and former Shell Foundation Chairman Malcolm Brinded – will face trial.
Under Italian law a company can be held responsible if it is deemed to have failed to prevent, or attempt to prevent, a crime by an employee that benefited the company.
Both companies’ shares are traded on U.S. stock exchanges, putting their foreign dealings in the scope of U.S. authorities.
Shell and Eni, on behalf of subsidiaries, in 2010 entered deferred prosecution agreements with the DOJ over separate Nigerian corruption allegations.
Those pacts dismissed charges after a certain period in exchange for fines and an agreement to fulfil a number of requirements. They concluded in 2013 and 2012, respectively.
“A company’s disclosure of alleged foreign corruption to both the SEC and the DOJ in the U.S. typically means the company believed U.S. authorities needed to be made aware of this, and both agencies have the authority to prosecute under the (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA),” said Pablo Quiñones, executive director of the New York University School of Law program on corporate compliance and enforcement.
Quiñones previously worked as chief of strategy, policy and training at the DOJ’s criminal fraud section, a role that included helping to develop FCPA enforcement policy.
The SEC and the DOJ declined to comment on the company disclosures or whether they were looking into any allegations surrounding the block.
Eni noted its disclosure in an SEC filing, in which it said“no evidence of wrongdoing on Eni side were detected”. Shell has said publicly that it submitted the investigation to U.S. authorities and to Britain’s Serious Fraud Office.
Shell and Eni deny any wrongdoing. They say their payments for the block, a total of $1.3 billion, were transparent, legal and went directly into an escrow account controlled by the Nigerian government.
The companies and legal experts say the trial will last more than a year, with potential appeals stretching several years beyond that.
“The risk for companies is of a prolonged period of exposure to open court allegations from a state prosecutor of impropriety,” Anthony Goldman of Nigeria-focused PM Consulting said.“That will be painful and damaging.”