Judge orders Saipem to stand trial in Algeria corruption case

by Reuters
Friday, 2 October 2015 15:44 GMT

(Adds details, Saipem's statement)

By Emilio Parodi

MILAN, Oct 2 (Reuters) - A Milan judge ruled on Friday that Italy's Saipem and five people should stand trial on charges the oil services group paid bribes to win contracts in Algeria, legal sources said.

Saipem's parent company, Italian oil major Eni, Eni's former chief executive Paolo Scaroni and its former head of North Africa were cleared in the case.

Those made to stand trial for alleged international corruption and tax fraud are three former top executives at Saipem and two Algerian intermediaries, the sources said.

Saipem said in a statement it was confident it would be able to prove during the trial that there were no grounds for the company to be held liable.

Prosecutors allege that Saipem paid intermediaries 197 million euros to bag contracts worth 8 billion euros with Algeria's state-owned Sonatrach.

Under Italian law, companies are responsible for the actions of their managers and can be fined if found guilty.

The charges relate to events that took place up to the beginning of 2010, Saipem said.

The trial, which is due to start on Dec. 2, comes at a delicate time for the oil contractor.

The group is in the process of hiring banks to run a cash call of more than 3 billion euros as Eni seeks to sell down its 43 percent stake in the unit, to take Saipem's 5.5 billion euro debt off its balance sheet.

The judge accepted a plea bargain for Tullio Orsi, sentencing the former head of Saipem Contracting Algerie to two years and 10 months in jail and a 1.3 million Swiss franc ($1.3 million) fine, the sources said.

Scaroni's lawyer Alberto Moro Visconti welcomed the judge's decision saying: "We were certain of his innocence."

($1 = 0.8860 euros) ($1 = 0.9674 Swiss francs) (Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Susan Fenton)

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