UPDATE 1-Italian appeals court acquits Saipem, Eni in Algerian graft case

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MILAN, Jan 15 (Reuters) - An Italian appeals court has acquitted oil services group Saipem and oil major Eni of corruption and lifted an asset seizure order in a long-running trial over bribery allegations in Algeria.

In a ruling read out in court on Wednesday, the court also acquitted a series of other defendants, including former Eni Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni and former Saipem CEO Pietro Tali.

“It’s a historic ruling ... we’ve been reiterating Saipem’s total innocence for seven years. Saipem now won’t have to book charges to cover any eventual conviction,” Saipem lawyer Enrico Giarda said.

In 2018, a court of first instance sentenced Tali to jail and fined Saipem 400,000 euros while acquitting Eni and Scaroni.

But prosecutors appealed the ruling, asking for a prison sentence for Scaroni, a fine of 900,000 euros ($1 million) for Eni and the seizure of assets worth 197 million euros.

The long-running case involves allegations that Saipem paid intermediaries about 198 million euros to secure contracts worth 8 billion euros with Algeria’s state-owned Sonatrach.

Saipem is jointly controlled by Eni and state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti. When Scaroni was Eni CEO it was 43 percent owned by the energy major.

$1 = 0.8968 euros Reporting by Emilio Parodi and Alfredo Faieta, writing by Stephen Jewkes, editing by Valentina Za and David Evans