Corruption watchdogs have alleged that Shell executives knew that money earmarked for a controversial oil deal was being used to bribe senior Nigerian officials, a claim initially rebuffed by the petroleum giant.
However, Royal Dutch Shell admitted yesterday it knew that some of the payments it made to Nigeria for the rights to an oilfield would go to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company associated with a former Nigerian oil minister and convicted money launderer.
The allegations on Monday by Global Witness and Finance Uncovered refer to the 2011 purchase by oil giants Shell and Eni of OPL245, an offshore oil block estimated to hold nine billion barrels of crude, for $1.3-billion (R18-billion).
The deal saw the Nigerian government act as an intermediary between the oil majors and Malabu Oil and Gas, a Nigerian company allegedly controlled by former petroleum minister Dan Etete.
Allegations of corruption and bribery have mounted in the years since the deal was signed, forcing Shell and Eni to repeatedly maintain that they acquired the rights to the lucrative block in line with Nigerian law.
But leaked e-mail exchanges between Shell management cited in the Global Witness report suggest that Shell was aware that the OPL245 money would probably be funnelled to individuals, including Etete and then president Goodluck Jonathan.
“Shell executives knew the money would go to Malabu and Etete, and was then likely to flow to some of the most powerful people in the country,” the Global Witness report said.
“Senior Shell officials were also briefed that funds could flow on to then-president Goodluck Jonathan.”
Shell and Eni are charged with corruption and are being investigated by Italian prosecutors in connection with the deal.