Italian Firm On Corruption Trial Granted High Level EU Access To Lobby For Fossil Gas, Agency Alleges

An Italian energy firm, Eni, has been granted access to push fossil gas at the highest echelons of the EU, despite being on trial for an alleged bribery scheme involving millions of dollars channelled to politicians.

A new report from Global Witness, a non-governmental online research agency, reveals alleged attempts to obstruct justice by Eni executives.

This was contained in a release signed by Senior Communications Adviser, Dominic Kavakeb, obtained by SaharaReporters.

He said later this month, a verdict is expected in the Italian trial where Eni, Shell and senior executives are accused of knowing the $1.1bn they paid in 2011 for a Nigerian offshore oil field (OPL 245), would be used to pay bribes to Nigerian public officials.

According to the report, Eni’s CEO, Claudio Descalzi, who is also individually on trial in the same Italian case met with the EU’s Energy Commissioner in June, 2020.

Despite facing a possible eight-year prison term, Descalzi was granted a meeting with one of the EU’s most senior officials to discuss the role of fossil gas in the future of the EU, amongst other topics.

This follows a meeting with the Commissioner for Internal Markets in September 2018, the very same month public hearings in the corruption trial began.

According to the report, Eni’s in-house lobbyists hold more passes for the European Parliament than any other oil and gas firm. It was also alleged that, the lobbyists have been in 49 meetings with senior EU officials since 2014 — the second most of all Italian companies.

In that time, Eni, and the pro-fossil gas industry groups of which it is a member, have spent up to 100 million Euros lobbying in Europe.

With coal and oil out of vogue in the EU, fossil gas has become a key last stand for fossil fuel companies, with Eni central to the industry’s push. 

A presentation, sourced by Global Witness from public records of information requests, delivered by Eni to EU climate officials argued for gas as a “clean and safe partner” for renewables and called for support for the “coal-to-gas switch”.

Gas Campaigner at Global Witness, Barnaby Pace said: “The European Commission has waxed lyrical over its ambitions to fight climate change yet grants unrivalled access to some of the world’s biggest polluters. Serious action on the climate will not come about by giving fossil fuel companies access to policy making, particularly those who seem ever willing to ride roughshod over the rules.

“Fossil fuel companies must be prevented from polluting the political process. We don’t ask tobacco companies for advice on quitting smoking, so we shouldn’t be asking those who got rich from oil and gas for climate advice.”

Italian prosecutors also allege that Eni executives arranged kickbacks for themselves as part of the deal. In a separate, fast-tracked Italian trial, two middlemen involved in the deal have already been sentenced to jail terms with the judge in that case ruling that the management of Shell and Eni were “fully aware” that part of their $1.1bn payment for the block “would be used to remunerate Nigerian public officials”. 

She further ruled that it was proven that Eni managers planned and possibly received kickbacks from the deal. The conviction has been appealed.

The ruling in the fast-tracked trial does not in any way determine the guilt of defendants in the ongoing trial, though it shows that the allegations against Eni, Shell, Descalzi and others are credible and must be taken seriously. The defendants in the case have all pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.

Allegations of misconduct against Eni do not stop there. Italian prosecutors have alleged that Eni managers ordered surveillance against journalists, prosecutors and possibly even judges. 

Descalzi and several other Eni managers are suspects in a related criminal investigation into attempts to interfere in the investigation into the OPL 245 case.

Eni told Global Witness that all the charges and allegations regarding OPL 245 and the alleged conspiracy are unsubstantiated and they have provided all the evidence to the Milan court and judicial authorities to support their case.

 Eni also stated that its transition plan “is ambitious, detailed, and wider in scope commitments than our peers and has been welcomed by a number of external experts and commentators” and that it rejects “the allegations and insinuations” regarding the company’s “commitment to the energy transition.” The EU Commission did not respond to an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report.

Barnaby Pace said: “From the criminal investigations into Descalzi and Eni you’d be forgiven for thinking this is an organised crime group on trial rather than a global oil and gas firm. Eni managers are accused of interfering in investigations, attempting to bribe a witness, and spying on law enforcement and journalists on top of paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes, all to secure oil and gas that cannot be burned if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

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