The legal battle involving top executives from two oil giants, Eni and Shell, over alleged corruption in Nigeria started on Monday but was adjourned to next month after a brief procedural hearing.
The trial, which was initially scheduled to begin on March 5, 2018 in a Milan court, was postponed till May 14 and transferred to another chamber.
The Milan court said it would assess requests from third parties, including a series of international non-profit organizations, to join the case when it is opened on June 20.
At Monday’s hearing, Domenico Cartoni Schittar, a lawyer representing the Nigerian government, said he was stepping down from his role, according to Reuters.
In comments in a signed document seen by Reuters, Schittar said he had given up on a mandate, which he said had become “awkward.”
The long-running graft case revolves around the 2011 purchase by Eni and Shell of Nigeria’s Oil Prospecting Licence 245, an offshore oilfield, for about $1.3bn.
Milan prosecutors alleged that bribes were paid to win the licence to explore an oil block that holds an estimated nine billion barrels of oil, but which has never entered into production.
Global Witness, a campaign group that has conducted its own investigations, has described the case as one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of the oil industry.
The Chief Executive Officer, Eni, Claudio Descalzi, and a former Shell Foundation Chairman, Malcolm Brinded, are standing trial along with 11 other defendants and the two companies, according to Reuters.
All the accused have denied any wrongdoing.