…says verdict can’t save culprits from trial
The partial freedom granted oil giants by Italian courts in the celebrated OPL 245 corruption case will not stop the prosecution of the accused in Nigeria, a foremost global anti-corruption coalition has said. In a letter addressed to President Muhammad Buhari, the world acclaimed Anti-corruption Coalition said Nigeria should press on with the corruption charges and should not be cowed by any bully tactics of the oil giants, who may see the Italy ruling as a shield.
The coalition’s petition was signed by Luca Manes of Re: Common, Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House, Olanrewaju Suraju of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre) and Simon Taylor, Global of Witness. Eni, Shell and some Nigerian officials were involved in backwater dealings involving billions of illicit funds embezzled.
The Milan Tribunal ruled on March 17, 2021 that the 13 defendants in OPL 245 international corruption trial had no case to answer. But there are prospects of an appeal in Italy. The coalition said it understood that the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office would likely appeal the verdict.
It said unlike in Nigeria and other common law jurisdictions, Italian law does not permit judges to convict on the basis of circumstantial evidence. The group recalled that the recent Supreme Court rulings had set the bar for international corruption so high that a conviction is difficult unless there is naked evidence of a bribe being paid, captured on camera or on tape.
“We fear that the OPL 245 case may have fallen at this hurdle, despite the voluminous evidence submitted by the Prosecutor as to the knowledge of Shell and Eni that bribes would be paid; that the Resolution Agreements were designed by the two companies to use the Federal Government of Nigeria as a shield to protect themselves from making direct payments to Etete; and the meticulous tracing of where the payments ended up.”
The coalition said because of the differences between legal systems in Italy and Nigeria, no “double jeopardy” agreement exists between the two countries, hence, Eni, Shell, Etete, Abubakar and several oth- ers who were charged in Milan are also being prosecuted in Nigeria.
“We are aware of mischievous, self-serving calls in press from allies of those being charged that the Nigerian prosecutions should be dropped on the basis that Milan has found no case to answer.
These calls must be rejected. “Italy is not in charge of Nigeria’s justice system. The judges in Nigeria must be allowed to hear the cases and to judge them on the basis of Nigerian law.
Indeed, the world is now watching the Nigerian prosecutions,” it said.
The group said the judgment of the international community, already alarmed by the dismal Italian ruling, was likely to be harsh were Nigeria to drop the cases, given the strength of the evidence amassed by the EFCC.