Oil. Picture: REUTERS
Oil. Picture: REUTERS

Lagos — Nigeria won a long-running arbitration battle over an oil field, avoiding the award of $1.5bn in damages.

A tribunal at the Washington DC-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes dismissed claims filed by the family of a deceased Italian business-person, Vittorio Fabbri, which alleged that Nigeria’s government helped their father’s employee illegally seize control of his company after his death in 1998.

The decision “absolves the federal government of Nigeria from any liability,” attorney-general Abubakar Malami said in a statement Wednesday. Interocean Oil Development and Interocean Oil Exploration, two Delaware-registered entities controlled by the Fabbri family, filed their case against Africa’s largest crude producer in 2013.

The company at the heart of the conflict, Pan Ocean Oil was the operator of an onshore oil block from the 1970s until 2019, when the ministry of petroleum resources revoked the permit due to unpaid taxes. The Nigerian government took over all assets belonging to tycoon Festus Fadeyi, including Pan Ocean, in July, saying he owed 240-billion naira ($625m) in debts. The Fabbri family used to own Pan Ocean through the Interocean companies.

While the tribunal accepted that Fabbri’s family was deprived of its ownership of Pan Ocean when Fadeyi took over the company, it didn’t conclude, as was alleged, that the Nigerian government was complicit in achieving that outcome or responsible for any losses they suffered, according to a copy of the award seen by Bloomberg. It ordered the Interocean companies to pay costs of $660,000 to Nigeria.

Pan Ocean produced an average of 3,400 barrels of crude per day from its licence, known as Oil Mining Lease 98, in 2018, according to government data.

Nigeria is also seeking to overturn an arbitration award currently worth $10bn that was issued in favour of Process & Industrial Development in 2017 and upheld by a UK court in 2019. In September, a British judge granted the government’s request to take the British Virgin Islands-registered company to a fraud trial. Nigeria claims evidence of corruption perpetrated by P&ID has only recently been discovered.

P&ID denies all allegations of wrongdoing and accuses Nigeria of evading its legal obligation to pay the company.

Bloomberg

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