“It is incomprehensible the choice of the Public Prosecutor not to file a document in the proceedings which, bringing to light the instrumental use that Vincenzo Armanna intended to make of his own statements and the desired consequent activation of the investigating authority, brings extraordinary elements in favor of the accused “. The seventh criminal section of the Milan court writes this in the grounds for the sentence with which, on March 17, it acquitted all the defendants “because the fact does not exist” in the case of alleged corruption in Nigeria, including Eni, Shell, CEO of the Italian oil company Claudio Descalzi, his predecessor – and current president of Milan – Paolo Scaroni and Armanna, a former manager fired by the Italian oil company, who later became a great accuser and valued for his statements by the prosecutors.
In the video, which dates back to July 2014 and which the judges talk about, a meeting is recorded between the former Eni manager Vincenzo Armanna, ‘great accuser’ valued by the prosecutors, and the former external lawyer of Eni Piero Amara. The court, as stated in the motivations, “does not share the trivializing interpretation of the document” by the Public Prosecutor, because that video, instead, “allows you to appreciate Armanna’s will to blackmail Eni’s top management, clearly letting Piero Amara understand that his accusatory statements could have been modulated by possible agreements, making a clear reference to Descalzi and, more generally, “to other executives. The same judges do not even share the approach of the Milanese prosecutors who saw in the subsequent retraction of Armanna an “element against Descalzi, who”, according to this thesis of the prosecutors, “would have tried to influence Armanna’s accusatory statements through Piero Amara and Claudio Granata “, Eni’s chief of staff.
The judges: “There is a lack of certain and reliable evidence on corruption”
Milan, Eni-Nigeria trial: all defendants acquitted
The judges write that there is a lack of “certain and reliable evidence of the existence of the contested corruption agreement”. And they add: “At the outcome of the investigation it was not possible to reconstruct with certainty all the facts involved in the charge despite the acquisition of thousands of documents and the cross-examination of dozens of witnesses and partisan consultants. Some profiles of the story remain partly obscure and can be the subject of probabilistic and hypothetical reconstructions “. For the Tremolada-Gallina-Carboni college, the “accusatory certainty” of the adjunct Fabio De Pasquale and prosecutor Sergio Spadaro that “the current defendants represented themselves and contributed” to the “illegal payments”, of which c ‘is only “circumstantial” evidence. In the charge “the Public Prosecutor has chosen a descriptive technique that suffers intrinsic contradictions and, above all, equates evidence of the fact with respect to typical conduct, creating ambiguous overlaps and further contradictions with consequent interpretative difficulties”.
“No evidence of bribes to Nigerian officials”
Although the judges agree “with the prosecution” that “the amount of untraceable, handled money” is “circumstantial evidence of the generically illicit nature of the payments derived from the proceeds” of the Opl245 oil block, for the court “it is not on the other hand, we can agree with the conclusive assumption that a large part of this sum in cash, if not all, ended up in the availability of the Nigerian public officials who made the illicit agreements possible “. And the defendants, according to the judges, did not “contribute to such illegal payments”.
“Embarrassing Key Heads”
The case of the so-called ‘fake Victor’, allegedly ‘key witnesses’ who was called by the prosecutors from Nigeria to confirm the accusations by Vincenzo Armanna against Eni managers, is another emblem, according to the Milan judges, of the “incredible unscrupulousness” with which the former manager Armanna, also a defendant, used “the procedural tools for personal purposes, coming to orchestrate an impressive whirlwind of falsehood” of which he himself “lost control”. In January 2020, in fact, Isaac Eke, a Nigerian super-policeman who in a letter of November 2019 had credited himself as the ‘real Victor’ (as the first, a year earlier, before the judges had denied having known Armanna), in the courtroom has denied the former manager and ‘great accuser’ Armanna. The latter in 2016 told the Milanese prosecutors that a certain Victor Nawfar, in 2011 head of security of the former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, “told him that 50 million in cash, in $ 100 bills, had been brought to the ‘chairman’ of Eni “, that is Scaroni (acquitted), in two trolleys in the villa in Abuja of the former head of Eni’s exploration division, Roberto Casula (acquitted). The outcome “of the preliminary investigation” requested by the Prosecutor, the judges write, “was the embarrassing hearing of a man who came from Nigeria to deny the contents of a letter that he himself had signed only a few days earlier”.
The court writes that “from the reading of the specific conduct, contested to Descalzi, there is no reference, even only in the attenuated form of awareness, to the typical conduct of participation in the corruptive agreements that would have determined the public officials” of Nigeria such as former president Goodluck Jonathan and former Keeper Adoke Bello, “to adopt the settlement agreements of April 29, 2011 in contrast with Nigerian law to favor oil companies”. For the judges, the “willingness of Armanna to blackmail Eni’s top management, clearly letting Piero Amara understand that his accusatory statements could have been modulated by possible agreements, making a clear reference to Descalzi”.
The 15 defendants had been brought to trial for international corruption for what the prosecutor had called the largest bribe ever paid by an Italian company, ie 1.092 billion euros, but on 17 March they were all acquitted in the first instance. An alleged corruption in 2011 linked, for the accusation, to the acquisition by Eni and Shell of the exploration rights of the Opl245 oil field. Bribes that, for the prosecutors, had ended up with the politicians of Abuja with relegations also to Eni managers and to those who were considered mediators. In addition to the two energy giants, the CEO of the oil company Claudio Descalzi, his predecessor Paolo Scaroni, the former operational managers in the African country Roberto Casula, Ciro Antonio Pagano and Vincenzo Armanna, the alleged intermediaries Ednan Agaev, Gianfranco Falcioni and Luigi Bisignani, and the former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete, owner, with Malabu, of the license on the oil block. And again the Dutch multinational, the then chairman of the Shell Foundation Malcom Brinded and the former managers Guy Jonathan Colegate, John Copleston and Peter Robinson. The verdict came after three years of a trial that took place between tensions and twists, witnesses summoned and never arrived in court or co-defendants, in particular Armanna, who launched heavy accusations and then retracted their version. An acquittal that has left aftermath in the Milanese judicial offices. The prosecutors had also valued some statements made by the former external lawyer of the oil company, Piero Amara (arrested again yesterday), on alleged “interference by Eni’s defenses”, unproven, on judge Tremolada. Statements that led to the opening of a file in Brescia, which was then archived. So much so that the president of the Milanese court Roberto Bichi had sided, at the end of March, with a letter in defense of his judges. Then, in a joint note, the leaders of the Milan judicial offices had written that the “public prosecutor as an organ of justice (…) does not win and does not lose trials”.