Shell investigated in Italy over Nigeria oil field - source

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors are investigating Royal Dutch Shell RDSa.L as part of a probe into the acquisition of an off-shore oil field in Nigeria, the Anglo-Dutch company said on Wednesday.

A passenger plane flies over a Shell logo at a petrol station in west London, in this January 29, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“We can confirm we have received notice of proceedings from the Public Prosecutor in Italy,” a Shell spokesman said.

Earlier on Wednesday a judicial source told Reuters that Shell was under investigation by Milan-based judges for alleged international corruption.

Shell headquarters in the Hague were searched in February by Dutch police and prosecutors as part of this new strand of investigations, the company spokesman also said..

In 2014 a Milan court placed Eni ENI.MI under investigation over the $1.3 billion (901 million pounds) purchase in 2011 of Nigeria's OPL-245 offshore oil block by the Italian major and Shell.

Prosecutors later widened their investigation to include Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi.

Eni and Descalzi have denied any wrongdoing. The state-controlled oil company has always said it dealt exclusively with the government of Nigeria, paid fees into a government account and did not use intermediaries for the transaction.

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“Shell is cooperating with the authorities and is looking into the allegations, which it takes seriously,” the Shell spokesman said.

“Shell attaches the greatest importance to business integrity, one of our core values,” he added.

Italian prosecutors are working jointly with an anti-fraud team in the Netherlands in order to determine whether the two oil companies paid bribes to obtain licences for the Nigerian site, the judicial source said, confirming reports by Italy’s daily Corriere della Sera.

The OPL-245 block has been at the centre of a series of long-standing disputes.

It was initially awarded in 1998 by former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete to Malabu Oil and Gas, a company in which he was a shareholder.

The field was then sold in 2011 to Eni and Shell. According to documents from a British court, Malabu received $1.09 billion from the sale, while the rest went to the Nigerian government.

The oil block is estimated to contain 9 billion barrels of crude oil.

Shell, which sold some Nigerian assets in 2015, has been active in the country since 1937.

Reporting by Emilio Parodi, additional reporting by Ron Bousso, writing by Giulia Segreti, editing by Silvia Aloisi and David Evans