A London high court began to hear a lawsuit yesterday launched by Nigeria against United States bank JP Morgan Chase, claiming more than $1.7 billion for its role in a disputed 2011 oilfield deal.
The civil suit filed in the English courts relates to the purchase by energy majors Shell and Eni of the offshore OPL 245 oilfield in Nigeria, which is also at the centre of ongoing legal action in Italy.
A panel of judges in Milan acquitted the companies and executives, who all denied any wrongdoing, of bribery last March. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling.
In the court documents pertaining to the London case seen by Reuters, Nigeria alleges JP Morgan was “grossly negligent” in its decision to transfer funds paid by the energy majors into an escrow account to a company controlled by the country’s former oil minister Dan Etete instead of into government coffers.
The trial opened with details of the claim by Nigeria’s lawyer, Roger Masefield. JP Morgan will present its defence early next week. The trial will end on April 7 and a judgment will likely take several months.
In court, Masefield said Nigeria’s case rested on proving two key points: there was a fraud and JP Morgan was aware of the risk of fraud. He said JP Morgan had breached its duties.
“The evidence of fraud is little short of overwhelming. Under its Quincecare duty, the bank was entitled to refuse to pay for as long as it had reasonable grounds for believing its customer was being defrauded,” Masefield told the court.
Quincecare is a legal precedent whereby the bank should not pay out if it believes its client will be defrauded by making the payment.
JP Morgan’s London offices deal with business for Europe, Middle East and Africa, including Nigeria.