The 2018 jail sentences on the two arraigned men for their complicity in a bribery scandal linked to the sale of oil prospecting license (OPL) 245 in 2011 has been overturned.
An Italian appeal court on Thursday overturned the jail sentences of Emeka Obi, a Nigerian and Gianluca Di Nardo, an Italian, who had been convicted for their role in the controversial Malabu oil deal.
Reuters reports that in a decision taken behind closed doors but read out to reporters afterwards, three judges quashed the convictions and said there was no case to answer.
The prosecution itself had asked for the sentences to be overturned after a court in March Italian court acquitted Shell, Eni and other defendants of corruption charges in the oil deal.
Obi and Di Nardo, both accused of taking illegal kickbacks, were convicted in a fast-track trial back in 2018 separate from the main one. They were both sentenced to four years in jail, but had not started to serve them.
Under Italian law a fast-track trial, which is based only on documents with no hearings or witnesses, allows sentences to be cut by a third.
Roberto Pisano, Obi’s lawyer, referred to the original conviction as “an unjust sentence by the court of first instance conditioned by a macroscopic violation of the law.”
The three judges also lifted orders seizing assets worth $98.4 million from Obi and more than 21 million Swiss francs ($23 million) from Di Nardo.
The deal dates back to 2011 when Royal Dutch Shell and Eni paid $1.3 billion to purchase an offshore oil field (OPL 245) from Malabu Oil and Gas, a company in which Dan Etete, former petroleum minister, held majority shares.
It was alleged that about $1.1 billion was siphoned off to politicians and middlemen.
Last week, Italy’s justice ministry ordered an inquiry into the conduct of two OPL 245 prosecutors for allegedly hiding vital evidence.