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Published On: Tue, Sep 6th, 2016

Malabu Oil Deal: New Investigation implicates more Nigerians 

Leading Nigerians have been named in an alleged conspiracy to undermine Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the leadership of the giant state-owned oil major ENI.

Details about the alleged conspiracy – which is being investigated by prosecutors in Trani, Syracuse and most recently Milan – have been reported in the Italian press in recent weeks.

There has been speculation that the Nigerian involvement is linked to the controversy around the 2011 sale of the Nigerian oil block OPL245 from the indigenous company Malabu to Shell and ENI, a transaction mired in allegations of corruption.

The plotters are accused of circulating damaging rumors about ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi and allegations that Prime Minister Renzi, a supporter of Descalzi, was an agent of Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Services.

The Italian press has named the Nigerians that were allegedly involved as including the family of former military leader Sani Abacha; Pesal a company associated with the deceased former Bayelsa Governor DiepreyeAlamieyeseigha; a former National Securty Advisor and Minister of Defenceand a former Attorney General of Nigeria.

Though no details of the role of the Nigerians have been released, Italian media is claiming that they may have been involved in the plot and wider criminal activities including the smuggling of precious stones.

The Italian press also identified a key intermediary role allegedly played by Gabriele Volpi, a controversial Italian businessman with extensive business interests and political connections in Nigeria.

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Volpi, a billionaire who travels on a huge yacht formerly owned by Yugoslav dictator Tito, has been active in Nigeria for decades. His primary businesses are centred in Port Harcourt where his company Intels dominates the oil services industry and has contracts with all the oil majors.

Volpi has been investigated in Italy for alleged smuggling/tax evasion and was named in a US Senate Committee report “Keeping Corruption Out of the United States” as a close friend and business partner of former  Nigeria Vice President. It was alleged the plotters paid money to the Nigerians to secure the assistance of Nigerian security operatives in destabilising ENI.

According to witnesses, “Nigerian services were in contact with two Directors of the ENI administration: Luigi Zingales and Karina Litvack to whom they sent a range of information intended to reach Zingales and Litvack.

 

The two Directors attempted to smear the management by leaking damaging information to the journalist Claudio Gatti.” Gatti has repeatedly written stories about ENI.

Primary witnesses to the plot include Massimo Gaboardi, an oil industry technician investigated by prosecutors in Trani for compiling a dossier against Descalzi, and Vincenzo Armanna, a former ENI manager. Armanna alleges he was asked to fabricate a dossier showing money passing hands from Mossad to Renzi. Armanna told Syracuse prosecutors how “an important Nigerian businessman in the oil industry” was behind the alleged plot.

Armanna is also currently under investigation by Milanese prosecutors for corrupt payments made to officials following ENI’s 2011 acquisition of oil block OPL 245. Other suspects in that investigation include Descalzi himself and former Eni CEO, Paolo Scaroni.

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Several of the Nigerians named in the alleged Descalzi-Renzi plot have also had an interest in the OPL 245 affair.

Both the Abacha family and the former Vice President were opposed to the 2011 transaction, claiming that they legally owned the oil block, and have sought to have it revoked.  The former Attorney General oversaw the return of the oil block to its Nigerian owners. He was also named in the Italian press as being involved in an attempt to syphon off part of Eni’s 2011 payment to the Nigerian government for OPL 245.

Volpi is also known to have had an interest in OPL 245, both through Pecos Energy (which claims a share of the block), and by playing a “mediating role” in past attempts to resolve ownership over the block.

With so many of the interested parties in the OPL 245 controversy surfacing in the Italian investigations into the conspiracy against Eni and the Italian premiership, the Milan prosecutors, who are investigating the corruption allegations over OPL 245 and have been co-operating with the Nigerian agencies, have also become the lead agency in the conspiracy investigation.

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