Officials from Italian oil group Eni sought to convince a witness, a former Eni manager, to withdraw some statements he had made during investigations into the controversial corruption case ( Malabu Oil corruption scandal) involving the company, a court heard on Wednesday.
Reuters reports that Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale made the comment in a trial hearing into the case, during a legal debate over a request by Eni lawyers to adjourn proceedings to allow more time to consider new evidence in a related investigation.
“We have become aware that Eni, through its managers, would have tried to influence and would have approached the defendant (Vincenzo) Armanna to convince him to withdraw some of his statements,” De Pasquale told the court without elaborating.
According to the Reuters report, Armanna is both a defendant and a prosecution witness in the corruption trial.
Eni has denied any wrongdoing in the trial, in which it is accused of buying a Nigerian oil field in the knowledge that most of the $1.3 billion purchase price would be siphoned off to agents and middlemen in corrupt payments.
Eni also denies any wrongdoing in relation to a separate investigation where prosecutors are looking into allegations that Eni sought to obstruct justice in the Nigeria case.
The Malabu scandal involved the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
From accounts controlled by Mr Etete, about half the money ($520 million) went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA oil.
Anti-corruption investigators and activists suspect he fronted for top officials of the Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI.
The transaction was authorised in 2011 by Mr Jonathan through some of his cabinet ministers and the money was payment for OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
Shell and ENI initially claimed they did not know the money would end up with Mr Etete and his cronies
Shell, Eni, Mr Etete, Mr Aliyu and several officials of the oil firms are being prosecuted in Italy for their roles in the scandal.