Nigeria Tells Shell, Eni to Temporarily Cede Oil Field Control

  • Authorities investigating sale of offshore oil license in 2011
  • Area could hold about 9 billion barrels of crude reserves

A Nigerian court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Eni SpA to cede control of a jointly owned oil license to the government amid an investigation into how they purchased the asset.

The companies’ control of Oil Prospecting License 245 is suspended pending "investigation and prosecution of suspects" including companies and individuals accused of possible "acts of conspiracy, bribery, official corruption and money laundering," according to documents from the Federal High Court in Abuja.

“We are aware of media reports but we have not received any notification,” Eni said in an e-mailed statement. “Eni denies any wrongdoing in respect of its acquisition of a participation interest in the block OPL from the Nigerian government."

Shell spokesman Precious Okolobo declined to comment.

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which has been investigating the sale of the license, requested the suspension, spokesman Wilson Uwujaren said by phone. He couldn’t say when the agency would complete the probe.

In 2011, Shell and Eni paid $1.1 billion for OPL 245 to Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd., a company controlled by Dan Etete, a former oil minister. Located in the deep offshore waters of the Gulf of Guinea, it is estimated to hold at least 9 billion barrels of crude reserves worth $1 trillion, according to a report by a House of Representatives committee. Nigerian lawmakers said in 2013 that the sale should be revoked because the sale process was flawed.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, with Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Total SA and Eni running joint ventures with state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump more than 90 percent of the country’s oil. The West African nation produced 1.45 million barrels a day of oil in December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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