Italian multinational oil major, Eni, whose Nigerian Agip affiliate is involved in the acquisition of the giant deepwater Zabazaba oil block, may now progress with the development of the asset following clean bill of health by auditors investigating the deal. According to a statement from the company, an external audit conducted into the $1.3 billion OPL 245 acquisition deal made in 2011 “has not found evidence of illegal conduct.” Eni is the subject of an investigation by the Italian authorities over the deal involving Nigerian Agip Exploration (NAE), Royal Dutch Shell plc and Ministry of Petroleum Resources to acquire the Malabu Oil’s OPL 245.
The deepwater oil block which is estimated to contain nine billion barrels of oil had been subject of dispute between Malabu Oil and its estranged technical partner, Shell, following attempts by former administration of the federal government to recover and re-award the asset to Shell. Promoters of Malabu Oil had initiated a protracted legal battle against Shell’s move to take over the oil block, a move government had considered huge hindrance to policy targets on growing the nation’s oil and gas production capacity and actual output.
Thus, Ministry of Petroleum Resources had waded into the dispute and worked out an out-of-court settlement that now have Ani’s Agip as operator of the field while Shell remains a key interest holder and Malabu’s financial interests addressed. However, despite the peaceful settlement of the dispute, allegations of backstage bargains and corruption trailed the deal, trailing calls for investigation both in Nigeria and abroad.
The allegations prompted Italian authorities to invite external auditors to examine the processes adopted in the acquisition deal with a view of bringing Eni to book. However, the Italian firm stated that an audit conducted recently by an independent U.S. law firm on its behalf has not found evidence of illegal conduct in relation to the transaction. Eni said that the audit examined documents and other information available to the company, and that a final report of this audit has been made available to the judiciary – with whom the firm is cooperating in full. Both Eni and Shell have always denied any suggestion of wrongdoing pertaining to the OPL 245 transaction.