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4th Dec 2022

EU officials met Italy energy CEO despite corruption trial

  • Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italian energy giant Eni, faces up to eight years in jail, if convicted (Photo: Eni)

The CEO of Italian energy giant Eni, Claudio Descalzi, was granted access to EU commissioners and officials to push the case for gas in the bloc's energy transition - whilst allegedly involved in a billion-dollar corruption scandal, according to a report by Global Witness on Monday (15 March).

Descalzi is on trial in Italy, alongside his company Eni plus Royal Dutch Shell, for their roles in the $1.1bn (€921m) purchase of a Nigerian offshore oil field (called OPL 245) in 2011.

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Italian prosecutors have accused Descalzi and other senior executives of acknowledging that a part of the oil companies' payment was set to be used to pay bribes to Nigerian public officials, including ministers and other politicians.

Descalzi is charged with international corruption offences, but he is also a suspect in attempts to interfere in the judicial investigation. Eni's CEO could face up to eight years of prison time, if convicted.

The verdict in the trial, which started in 2018, is expected early in 2021.

Since 2014, when the European Commission started publishing high-level lobby meetings, Eni lobbyists have had 49 meetings with EU commissioners and their cabinet members - the second-most of any Italian company, after fellow energy giant Enel.

The Global Witness report indicates that Descalzi met, via video conference, with EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson in June 2020 to discuss Eni's strategy, and decarbonisation of the gas system and clean energy investments.

Earlier, in November 2019, Eni's CEO also attempted to meet European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of the Green Deal.

Meanwhile, Descalzi and former commissioner for the internal market, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, had a meeting in September 2018 - the same month public hearings in the corruption trial started.

In a presentation for EU climate officials, released to Global Witness via freedom of information requests, Eni favoured gas as a "clean and safe partner" for renewables, and called for support for the "coal-to-gas switch".

The Italian oil and gas multinational is part of pro-gas industry groups that have collectively declared spending €100m in lobbying since 2014.

Pro-gas lobbies held 129 meetings with senior EU commission officials since 2018.

Additionally, Eni's in-house lobbyists hold six European Parliament passes - more than any other oil and gas company in Brussels.

According to Barnaby Pace from Global Witness, "fossil fuel companies must be prevented from polluting the political process".

"We don't ask tobacco companies for advice on quitting smoking, so we shouldn't be asking those who got rich from oil and gas for climate advice," said Pace.

Both Descalzi and Eni have pleaded not guilty, and deny all charges.

"Eni believes that during the trial in Milan no factual elements emerged supporting the international bribery allegations, which the public prosecutor based only on assumptions and suggestions," a company spokesperson told EUobserver on Friday.

Meanwhile, energy consultancy firm Rystad calculates Eni will be one of the biggest investors in fossil gas in the next decade, with some €30bn in gas investments between 2021 and 2030.

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