Nigeria Hires Litigation Firm Franklin Wyatt for Eni Dispute

Nigeria’s Ministry of Petroleum Resources recruited a specialist in settling litigation to participate in talks with Eni SpA over a long-running dispute over oil rights and bribery allegations.

Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Timipre Sylva hired London-based consultancy Franklin Wyatt to represent and advise the government in “outstanding commercial and legal issues” over Oil Prospecting License 245, or OPL 245, according to a letter dated June 29 and seen by Bloomberg. Sylva’s letter was addressed to Franklin Wyatt’s managing partner, Matthew Carey.

The letter “serves as confirmation” that Franklin Wyatt’s recruitment was approved by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, and “may be produced as evidence” of the firm’s “authority to represent the ministry in discussions with relevant counterparties,” according to the document. As well as being head of state, Buhari is also Nigeria’s senior minister of petroleum resources -- with Sylva serving as his deputy.

Garba Deen Muhammad, a spokesman for Sylva, confirmed that the ministry of petroleum resources has hired Franklin Wyatt to “represent Nigeria on the Eni issue”, without providing further details. Eni and Franklin Wyatt declined to comment.

Franklin Wyatt is a specialist disputes consultancy that often works on cases involving sovereign countries, according to its website.

The 2011 purchase of OPL 245 by Eni and Royal Dutch Shell Plc has been subject to years of legal wrangling. The two companies, as well as some current and former executives, are on trial in Milan for allegedly making corrupt payments during the deal. Italian prosecutors have charged that the companies moved $1.1 billion into a Nigerian government escrow account to obtain the license in 2011, about $800 million of which was then used to pay bribes.

The current Nigerian government, which came to power five years ago, joined the case in 2018 as a civil party and asked for at least $1.1 billion in damages, while prosecutors are seeking a jail term of eight years for Eni Chief Executive Officer Claudio Descalzi. The tribunal is expected to rule early next year. Eni denies any wrongdoing.

Eni recently initiated arbitration proceedings against Nigeria at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The company alleges that Nigeria has breached its obligations by “pursuing a campaign of unfounded claims” against the Italian oil major and refusing to allow the firm to develop OPL 245.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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