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MI6 hires exploring the dark side of OPL 245

Translation of an article published overnight by the Dutch news media organisation,

Of course, Shell knew about the corruption risk, the prosecutor said

Lawsuit over oil field In a dim Milanese bunker, Tuesday was worked towards the denouement in the corruption case against oil companies Shell and Eni. Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale calls it “the perfect economic crime.”

Carola Houtekamer: July 21, 2020

The lawsuit revolves around the acquisition of rights to the oil field “OPL 245”, for which Shell and Eni paid $ 1.3 billion. Photo George Osodi / Getty

What’s the news?

  • The Italian Public Prosecution Service demanded unprecedented high prison sentences in Milan on Tuesday against four former Shell directors and employees for large-scale corruption.
  • The prosecution charges it to a former member of the board of directors, a director and two advisers who participated in bribery in Nigeria.
  • The Italian criminal case revolves around the acquisition of the rights to a gigantic oil field off the Nigerian coast, “OPL 245”. The money that Shell and the Italian oil company Eni paid for this in 2011 largely ended up with Nigerian politicians and businessmen.

“This is corruption!” Occasionally Fabio De Pasquale raises his voice, especially when construction workers start again on the other side of the barred windows. The prosecution quotes from an internal email from the British-Dutch oil company Shell, which talks about the friendship between the then president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, and the owner of the oil field that Shell was aiming for. “And you know that the president wants some of the proceeds from that field. Doesn’t that create a corruption risk? Is there a robust compliance system at Shell? ”

The Italian lawsuit against Shell and the Italian oil company Eni has been moved to a large, dim bunker next to San Vittore prison in Milan due to corona. The seven prison cells on the sides previously contained terrorists and mafia leaders. “May there be a light on,” complains a lawyer. “No,” says the judge. “The lamps are broken. And you’re still here to listen. ”

The case revolves around the acquisition of the rights to a gigantic oil field off the Nigerian coast. OPL 245 accounts for about 9 billion barrels of crude oil, about a quarter of the total Nigerian oil reserves. Most of the money Shell and Eni paid for this in 2011 – $ 1.3 billion – ended up in the pockets of Nigerian politicians and businessmen, including Goodluck Jonathan. In addition, Shell and Eni obtained the oil field under very favorable tax conditions, which the prosecutor calls a “perfect economic crime”. The kickback amount makes the corruption case one of the largest of its kind. A criminal case is also pending in the Netherlands.

A handy three-step rocket

Shell has always pointed to the Nigerian government. The capricious owner of the oil field, former oil minister Dan Etete, had been convicted of money laundering, and the oil companies had rigged a handy three-step rocket. Shell and Eni paid to the Nigerian government, which again channeled the money to Etete – a safe sex construction referred to by The Economist, with the government as a condom. Shell is not concerned that any bribes have been paid after the deal, the oil company still claims.

Prosecutor De Pasquale, who was previously convicted of Berlusconi, certainly disagrees. In his hour-long final indictment, he uses internal emails to explain how the two oil companies participated in large-scale corruption. De Pasquale: “These emails are not drinks, as Ben van Beurden took them off in a tap conversation. They circulated widely in the company. ”

“The heart of the matter,” said the prosecution in a 2010 briefing for Malcolm Brinded, a member of Shell’s board of directors at the time. It says that the Nigerian president wants the oilfield deal to get through soon, as it will make ‘political contributions’. That proves, according to De Pasquale, that Shell knew full well that the money would end up as a political bribe. He quotes more emails, in which Shell employees talk about ‘paying people off’ and about prices that should be acceptable to ‘all players in Abuja’ – read: politicians in the government city.

The prosecution’s voice becomes hoarse after eight hours of talking as he jumps from the palace in Abuja to a luxury hotel in Milan, from Russian middlemen to corrupt oil ministers, from suitcases of cash to manipulation of the lawsuit, from FBI to FIOD and from 1998 to now. The mouth mask of the judge occasionally drops.

De Pasquale also complains about Shell’s behavior in the lawsuit. He disapproves of the suspects’ absence, denounces what he thinks is false speech, and is critical that Shell hides his internal investigations into the matter, with mysterious names such as “XYNO,” under the guise of professional secrecy. “A compliance report that remains hidden. That’s a joke, isn’t it? ” In the Netherlands, the criminal case has come to a standstill, because Shell claims that everything that internal lawyers read is also covered by the right of non-disclosure.

When the light drops and the judge is barely visible, the prosecution wants to say something about how the riches of poor countries are being given away for low prices and how this is undermining democracies. But time is up.

And so, in two minutes, the requirements. Around seven years in prison for the Shell people for “the seriousness of the case and the international nature of the corruption.” Intermediaries and Eni managers face four to eight years in prison, owner Etete ten years for his “bad behavior.” In addition: fines of almost one million euros for the companies, plus a claim of converted more than 1 billion dollars.


Australian Peter Robinson, as regional director, was close to buying the big oil field and was the link to the top. Robinson received emails from the former spies, and briefed Malcolm Brinded on the negotiations with briefings.

In an unexpected plot twist, Shell accused Robinson of corruption in 2018. The director allegedly took bribes when disposing of another Nigerian Shell oil field to a local party. Shell, in its own words “baffled and disappointed” with the discovery, filed a complaint against Robinson in the Netherlands.

The sale of that other oil field fell on the very same day as the settlement of OPL 245 in which Robinson was also involved: on April 29, 2011. Both transactions involved the then oil minister and former Shell employee Diezani Alison-Maduake. role. Nevertheless, Shell argues that the two cases are ‘not known’ to be related.


Guy Colegate, also from MI6, kept in close contact with his colleague Copleston in jaded emails full of quick abbreviations and swear words.

For years, the two did intelligence work for Shell in Nigeria. It is their job to find out which other oil companies were looking for OPL 245, what the political situation was and what all the decision-makers had on their wish list. To this end, they had informal conversations with politicians and intermediaries, which they reported to their superior Peter Robinson and managers above.

In a tapped telephone conversation, shortly after the FIOD raid in 2016 at Shell’s headquarters in The Hague, incumbent chairman Ben van Beurden dismissed their email exchanges as “drinks talk”. But the mail traffic from the two undercuts Shell’s spokes line – “we don’t know what the owner did with the money.” The men talked at length about which “sharks” were expecting money from the deal and how crazy Etete is.


With his colleague Guy Colegate, John Copleston is one of the most illustrious players in the file. His business card reads obedient strategic investment adviser, but in reality Copleston worked for the British secret service MI6 before transferring to Shell to “explore the dark side of OPL 245”, according to the prosecution. The appointment is not unique, Shell more often recruits former spies from the FBI, MI6, SAS and MIVD.

As one of the few Shell workers, he spoke directly to the owner of the oil field. Dan Etete had a bad reputation. In 2007 he was convicted of money laundering in France. The top managers of Eni and Shell therefore preferred not to be seen in one room with him. They left that to intermediaries and employees who were lower in rank. Until the criminal file leaked, Shell even insisted it didn’t know at all that it had done business with Etete. Copleston knew that, witness the ‘iced champagne’.


Malcolm Brinded is the top Shell director seeking to detain Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale. Brinded was a member of the board of directors between 2002 and 2012 under Jeroen van der Veer and then Peter Voser. The former boss of “upstream”, the division for gas and oil extraction, received 2.5 million euros on his departure.

Brinded was closely involved in the tug of war around the Nigerian oil field, according to the criminal file, which is in NRC’s possession. He signed official proposals in the negotiations and was briefed in detail on the political situation in Nigeria and the price of the deal. He knew that controversial political contributions should come from the proceeds of the field.

OPL 245 had been litigated for years by Shell, which had rights but could not enforce them. As a result, a lot was at stake for Brinded. Under his responsibility, hundreds of millions had already been invested in extraction, without adequate legal coverage.


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