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Financial Times offers deepest apologies to Shell insiders about alleged ‘planted questions’

By John Donovan

The following Royal Dutch Shell Directors and officials were given advance sight of the article below and have chosen not to comment: Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, Malcolm Brinded, Executive Director of Shell EP, Keith Ruddock (General Counsel Shell EP), Richard Wiseman, General Counsel of Shell International Ltd and last, but not least, Jorma Ollila, Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell plc.

THE ARTICLE

On Wednesday 9 May 2007, FT.com published a Question & Answer session with Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Jeroen van der Veer. FT readers had been invited over several days to submit questions on the subject of Energy vs environment for Mr Van der Veer to answer.

Financial Times: Energy vs environment? Updated Q & A with Jeroen van der Veer Edit Link

We published the FT.com article on our website www.royaldutchshellplc.com

It has a busy “Live Chat” facility on which visitors can instantly post comments. It also displays the number of people currently visiting the site. Normally around 20 to 30 visitors, with 87 being the highest number at one time recorded thus far.

We have a number of Shell insiders monitoring the publication of news articles about Shell which are updated many times every day on a 24/7 basis. Shell insiders also monitor comments posted on Live Chat. Sometimes there is an outcry if something fishy is spotted.

This happened on Wednesday when an observant Shell insider noticed that some of the FT readers asking questions were actually undisclosed Shell employees. It ended up with the Financial Times entering the Live Chat forum to post an explanation and an apology. We give the FT full credit for doing so.

One at least of the Shell employee names, Mr Peter Wood, a Shell economist who works for Shell in The Hague along with Mr Van der Veer, should have immediately rung alarm bells with the Shell CEO, but for some reason his name and city apparently did not do so. The name of Peter Wood should have extra significance because it happens to also be the name of the representative of all non-USA Shell stockholders in the multibillion dollar consolidated class action lawsuit brought against Shell in respect of the reserves fraud.

The name and city of another Shell employee, Raymond Franssen from Miri (where Shell has a main office), was also distinctive, but apparently also went unnoticed by Van der Veer. Mr Franssen is Chief Exploration Geoscientist at Shell.

Perhaps Mr Van der Veer knew that both people were Shell employees but was under the impression that this would be disclosed in the Q & A article which was published.

After becoming aware of the outcry, the FT immediately amended the online article, by declaring the fact that the two names spotted by our observant insiders are indeed Shell employees. Otherwise FT readers would still not know the truth.

Here is the sequence of comments on Live Chat.
(Royal Dutch Shell is an automated abbreviation of royaldutchshellplc.com. “Coolfonz” is a registered guest. )

Guest 5292: The FT’s Q&A would be more convincing if a disproportionate number of the questions did not originate from Shell’s own staff. The FT owes it to its readers to indicate which of the questions originated from within Shell.

Guest 4847: The planted questions provide more evidence of a continued culture of deception and spin here at Shell. This time it involves v.d.veer personally although he may be an innocent victim like the FT. What a cynical move days prior to the AGM.

Guest 3848: Is this not a full blown scandal.

Guest 1382: Yes, some of the questions are from Shell staff. The FT seems to have withdrawn the article. I cannot find it on their site.

Royal Dutch Shell: The article in question is still on the FT.com site

Guest 2809: hi, does anyone have evidence of the questions being posted by Shell staff, which they would be prepared to provide to the FT?

Guest 5926: The readers with addresses in Miri, Muscat, and The Hague should be immediately suspicious – maybe some of the authors of the questions would like to speak up?

Guest 9809: Perhaps someone working for Shell could check the names against the internal directory?

Guest 8352: Who should I contact at the FT? Please supply contact information.

Guest 2809: Hi, I work for the FT. I agree it is reasonable to expect that questions asked by Shell staff should be identified as such (and in Q&As with other companies of course). Of course this is not always 100% possible. However we have identified two questions as coming from Shell staff. They had identified themselves as such but their email addresses had become separated from their name/location/question. This is an error on our part, which we deeply regret. We’ve now marked those questions which we identified as coming from Shell staff members, and have asked Shell PR to assist in identifying any others. In reply to guest_8352 – you can email me directly: kate.mackenzie AT ft.com — of course we’ll have to investigate ourselves. Thanks all for drawing this to our attention.

Royal Dutch Shell: Posted by John Donovan. We can confirm that the postings by the FT are authentic. As Kate says, the relevant FT.com article has been amended and now identifies two known Shell employees.

Coolfonz: Peter Wood is a Shell economist from the Hague and Frannssen is a deepwater specialist, amazing how little they know about their own company considering how senior they are…

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