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(Reuters) — A London high court began to hear a lawsuit on Wednesday launched by Nigeria against U.S. 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 center 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 defense early next week. The trial will end on April 7, and a judgment will likely take several months.
In court, Mr. 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,” Mr. Masefield told the court.
A spokesman for the bank said in a statement to Reuters that it was “confident that it acted appropriately in making these payments” and said the bank would “robustly defend against this claim.”