Oil License Corruption Charges Don’t Stick in Milan Court of Appeal - McDermott Will & Emery

Oil License Corruption Charges Don’t Stick in Milan Court of Appeal


In 2011, global oil company Shell and Italian state-owned oil company ENI struck a deal with the Nigerian government to jointly acquire the license to one of the most valuable oil blocks in Nigeria, known as Oil Prospecting License 245 (OPL 245).

Several years later, the Italian Public Prosecutor in Milan charged Shell and ENI, along with a number of individuals—including McDermott’s client, a strategic investment advisor at Shell—with corruption-related charges. The defendants were accused of being part of an international conspiracy to pay bribes to Nigerian government officials to acquire the license.

The subsequent trial was one of the most high-profile and complex in recent Italian criminal history, involving 15 separate defendants and two sets of related proceedings in Italy.


A McDermott white-collar team out of London, led by Simon Airey in partnership with Italian advocate Giuseppe Bianchi, took on the Shell strategic investment advisor’s defense.

Confident that the allegations against their client (and the other defendants) were based on fundamental misconceptions of fact and law, compounded by an imperfect understanding of certain documents and emails written in English rather than Italian, the team aimed to clear him of all charges.


Working closely with the lawyers for other defendants, the team devised a combined approach and strategy to demonstrate the falsity of the prosecutor’s theories and present a series of complicated facts to the court as clearly and succinctly as possible.

After four years of trial proceedings, including extensive witness evidence and detailed submissions on the facts and the law, the team achieved the best possible result: the trial court dismissed the case against McDermott’s client and all the other defendants, determining that there was no case to answer—the strongest possible formulation of acquittal available under Italian law.

The Milan Court of Appeal upheld that ruling after the Deputy Attorney General in Milan abandoned an appeal that had been lodged by the prosecution.


With an international platform spanning London, Europe and the United States, along with decades of experience in numerous jurisdictions, McDermott’s white-collar and government investigations team was ideally equipped to manage the complexity of the matter and clear the client of all charges.

Learn more about our white-collar capabilities.