New evidence has reportedly emerged during the corruption probe into Shell's acquisition of the OPL 245 oil field off the coast of Nigeria, indicating that top executives were prepared to press ahead with the deal despite knowing that most of the money could end up as political bribes.
The BBC reported it has seen documents that show top Shell executives were aware that more than a billion of the $1.3bn (£1bn) paid to the Nigerian government would be passed on to former petroleum minister, Dan Etete, who was convicted for money laundering in a separate case.
Shell said in a statement that it did not believe that any current or former employees had acted illegally.
A company controlled by Etete – Malabu Oil and Gas – had purchased the rights to OPL 245 for a minor sum of $2m while he was Nigeria's oil minister between 1995 and 1998.
Shell and the Italian oil company ENI acquired OPL 245 in 2011 and the government allegedly paid about $1bn of the total deal amount to Malabu.
The emails, seen by the BBC, were obtained by anti-corruption charities Global Witness and Finance Uncovered. They show Shell executives were negotiating with Etete for a year before the finalisation of the deal, the BBC said.
The BBC said ENI did not respond to its request for comment but had previously stated it did not believe that the company, or its ENI personnel, had been involved in any wrongdoing.
An email dated March 2010 from a former MI6 officer employed by Shell shows that the company knew Etete would benefit from the deal despite him being convicted in 2007 for money laundering in France.
"Etete can smell the money. If, at 70 years old, he does turn his nose up at 1.2 bill he is completely certifiable and we should then probably just hold out until nature takes its course with him," read the email, which was forwarded to the then Shell chief executive Peter Voser. Representatives of Voser reportedly declined to comment.
Another email dated July 2010 showed that Shell executives believed the deal payment would also end up in the pockets of Nigerian politicians as political bribes, including former president Goodluck Jonathan.
Etete's negotiating strategy is "clearly an attempt to deliver significant revenues to GLJ [Goodluck Jonathan] as part of any transaction", the email noted. Jonathan is the former president of Nigeria.
A spokesperson for Jonathan termed the allegations as a "false narrative" and told the broadcaster that no charges or indictments have been brought or secured against the former president in connection with the OPL 245 deal.
However, Italian prosecutors have alleged that nearly $466m was laundered through a network of Nigerian politicians – to benefit Jonathan and other politicians. Italian courts will make a decision on criminal proceedings against Shell and its partner ENI on 20 April.
Notably, the OPL 245 deal concluded just months after Shell made a payment of $30m to settle previous allegations of bribery in Nigeria and other countries. Experts who spoke to BBC said Shell should have walked away from the deal instead of involving itself in another case of bribery and laundering.