May 26, 2020

UK Court dismisses Nigeria’s suit against oil companies

On May 22, 2020, the High Court of Justice in London dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Federal Republic of Nigeria against Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Eni SpA and other defendants in 2018 for $1.1 billion in damages, claiming that rights under Oil Prospecting License 245 were obtained with bribes and kickbacks made to government officials.  When the suit was filed, both oil companies were already defending a lawsuit in Italy brought in 2017 by the Procura della Repubblica di Milano, the Milan public prosecutor, based on the same allegations.  According to the High Court, even though the action filed in the UK sought both monetary damages and a request that the court rescind the contract that resulted from the defendants corrupt scheme, the court held that both suits essentially involved the same facts, participants, and remedies. 

In light of these similarities, the High Court ruled that the UK does not have jurisdiction over the matter.  The decision was based primarily on Article 29 of the Brussels Regulation, which allows a court to decline jurisdiction when two causes of action in different jurisdictions are so similar that it is more efficient to allow the initial case to proceed than risk conflicting judgments.

In April 2020 Eni agreed to pay $24.5 million to the US Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve allegations under the books and records and internal controls provisions of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and in October 2019 the US Department of Justice informed the company that it would not prosecute the company and had closed its investigation into allegations of corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere.  Meanwhile, Shell recently announced that an investigation by the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office that was launched in 2019 into OPL 245 is nearing completion.

High Court Judgment | Eni Statement | Shell Form 20F