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Royal Dutch Shell and Eni have won back control of one of Nigeria’s most promising oil assets after winning an appeal against an earlier court decision to seize the exploration block while corruption allegations were investigated.

The Federal High Court in Abuja ruled on Friday that the operating licence for an offshore block called OPL245 should be returned to Shell and Eni, reversing its order in January for the asset to be forfeited, write Andrew Ward and Chika Oduah.

The block — estimated to contain up to 9bn barrels of oil — is the subject of investigations in Nigeria and Italy into allegations that much of the $1.3bn paid by Shell and Eni for the licence in 2011 ended up with the country’s then-petroleum minister and associates.

Eni has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Shell has said it does not believe that requests by Italian prosecutors to send the case to trial are justified. Separate corruption charges have also been filed against both companies in Nigeria.

Claudio Desclazi, Eni’s chief executive, told the Financial Times last month that the Italian group remained keen to develop OPL245 — seen as one of the biggest oil prospects in west Africa — and was “very close” to making an investment decision, subject to the asset being returned by Nigerian authorities.

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