UPDATE 1-Eni says audits show no evidence of illegal conduct in Algeria

Thu Jan 16, 2014 11:23am EST

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MILAN, Jan 16 (Reuters) - External audits into Italian oil company Eni's business activities in Algeria, which are the subject of a corruption probe by Italian and Algerian authorities, have found no evidence of illegal conduct by the group, Eni said on Thursday.

Oil service group Saipem, which is 43-percent owned by Eni, is under investigation for allegedly bribing intermediaries to secure contracts in Algeria worth around $11 billion.

State-controlled Eni and its CEO Paolo Scaroni are also under investigation in the same probe. Eni, Scaroni and Saipem deny any wrongdoing.

"The results of the audits revealed neither evidence of illegal or corrupt conducts of Eni, nor the existence of intermediary contracts between Eni and the third parties under investigation," Eni said in a statement.

The audits, which will be forwarded to judicial authorities, were carried out by third parties at the behest of Eni, the oil major said.

Saipem carried out a similar audit which was examined by external consultants and was concluded in July. This found no proof of payments to Algerian public officials.

The probe by Italian and Algerian prosecutors is continuing.

Eni, which has been operating in Algeria since 1981, has extensive interests in the gas-rich country and holds a series of gas exploration and development licenses.

In 2012, Algeria was Italy's second-biggest gas supplier after Russia.

Italian prosecutors' allegations that Saipem executives paid bribes worth 197 million euros ($268 million) to win contracts with Algerian state-owned energy group Sonatrach have already led to the ousting of senior managers at both Saipem and Eni.

Scaroni, who has reiterated his innocence on several occasions, has been at the helm of Eni since June 2005 and is one of Italy's most prominent business executives.

His mandate at Eni, Italy's biggest listed company, comes up for review later this year. Scaroni has indicated his willingness to stay on.

($1 = 0.7356 euros) (Reporting by Stephen Jewkes, editing by Danilo Masoni and Jane Merriman)

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