By Emilio Parodi
MILAN, July 17 (Reuters) – Officials from Eni sought to convince a witness, a former Eni manager, to withdraw some statements he made during investigations into a Nigerian corruption case involving the Italian oil group, a court heard on Wednesday.
Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale made the comment in a trial hearing into the case, during a legal debate over a request by Eni lawyers to adjourn proceedings to give more time to consider evidence in a related obstruction-of-justice investigation.
“We have become aware that Eni, through its managers, would have tried to influence and would have approached the defendant (Vincenzo) Armanna to convince him to withdraw some of his statements,” De Pasquale told the court without elaborating.
Armanna is both a defendant and a prosecution witness in the corruption trial.
Eni has denied any wrongdoing in the trial, in which it is accused of buying a Nigerian offshore oilfield licence in the knowledge that most of the $1.3 billion purchase price would be siphoned off to agents and middlemen in corrupt payments.
Oil major Shell, which jointly bought the offshore field with Eni, is also on trial for corruption over the deal. It too denies any wrongdoing.
Eni also denies any wrongdoing in relation to a separate investigation where prosecutors are looking into allegations that Eni sought to obstruct justice in the Nigeria case.
Armanna, who led Eni’s project to acquire the OPL-245 field in 2011, has told investigators he was informed by a security official for the then Nigerian president that $50 million had been set aside for top Eni management under the deal.
Later on Wednesday, the Milan trial court denied Eni’s request for an adjournment, clearing the way for Armanna to take the stand. However, it ruled that for now he could only be asked about the graft case, not allegations of obstruction of justice.
Eni said in a statement on Wednesday it had declared itself an offended party in the obstruction-of-justice investigation. Prosecutors have not laid any charges against Eni officials or the group itself in this widening investigation.
“Eni is dealing with the (trial) proceedings with the utmost serenity and is confident that the deliberations underway will continue to confirm the company’s total non-involvement with facts that never happened and have nothing to do with the group,” the company said in a statement. (Editing by Mark Bendeich, Silvia Aloisi and Edmund Blair)