Fountain Court Chambers

London & Singapore

Commercial Court declines jurisdiction over US$3.2 billion Nigerian bribery claim

In a judgment handed down today, Mr Justice Butcher has decided that the English courts do not have jurisdiction over claims for over US$3.2 billion sought to be brought by the Federal Republic of Nigeria (“the FRN”) against Royal Dutch Shell plc and Eni SpA and a number of their overseas affiliates.

The claims arise out of the allocation in 2011 to a Shell / Eni consortium of an oil prospecting licence – known as OPL 245 – in respect of an offshore petroleum block in Nigerian territorial waters. The FRN alleges that this allocation was part of a fraudulent scheme and that monies paid by the consortium to the FRN for the licence were used to pay bribes to a number of former very senior Nigerian public figures.

In March 2018, the FRN chose to join as a civil claimant into criminal proceedings relating to OPL 245 that are pending before the Italian courts, in order to advance a claim that RDS and Eni SpA are liable to it in damages for alleged bribery.  In December 2018, the FRN commenced proceedings before the English Commercial Court in respect of the same matters. Eni challenged the court’s jurisdiction, including on the basis that the proceedings before the Italian and English courts as regards RDS and Eni Spa involve the same cause of action and are between the same parties within the meaning of Article 29 of the Brussels Regulation (Recast).  Mr Justice Butcher upheld this contention.  In circumstances where RDS was sued as the “anchor defendant”, it followed that the English court had no jurisdiction over any of the defendants.

The Brussels Regulation issues were argued by Eni, whose submissions were adopted by Shell.

Eni was represented by Richard Handyside QC and Alex Barden, instructed by Jonathan Hitchin, Joss Hayward and Sophie Orwell of Allen & Overy LLP.

A copy of the judgment is here.