A London judge on Friday ruled against Nigeria in the country’s pursuit of justice over the controversial Malabu deal, saying the $1 billion suit against international oil giants Shell and Eni could not go ahead in England.
Against the wish of the Federal government of Nigeria, the defendants Eni, Shell and others had earlier asked the court to decline jurisdiction under article 29 of the recast Brussels Regulation, as the Italian case against the companies is still ongoing.
On Friday, Judge Christopher Butcher ruled that England has no jurisdiction to try the case as it involves the same essential facts as a separate Italian criminal case.
In his written decision, the judge said the English case has both the same essential facts and parties as a parallel proceeding in Italy also brought by the Nigerian government over the Malabu deal.
The ruling is a victory for the oil companies, whose former and current executives face corruption charges linked to the Malabu scandal, a 2011 deal involving a Nigerian oil block known as OPL 245, a discussion that has spread throughout courtrooms in Europe.
Officials affected in the scandal have denied wrongdoing.
“We maintain that the 2011 settlement of long-standing legal disputes related to OPL 245 was a fully legal transaction with Eni and the Federal Government of Nigeria, represented by the most senior officials of the relevant ministries,” Shell said in a statement.
The Nigerian government said in its own statement that the Italian criminal case has a completely separate legal basis from the U.K. civil case and it would seek permission to appeal.
Eni declined to comment.
The Malabu oil scam, which has been under investigation for over four years, relates to the billions of dollars paid by oil giants, Shell and ENI, into a Federal Government account, for OPL 245, considered the richest oil block in Africa.
OPL 245 is perhaps the most talked-about asset in Nigeria’s oil industry. It covers 1958 square kilometers and holds over 9 billion barrels of crude oil, equivalent to nearly one quarter of Nigeria’s total proven reserves. Experts claim that the deposit can power the whole of Africa for twenty years.