Wednesday 08 August 207
My name is Alfred Donovan, owner of the website www.royaldutchshellplc.com recently described by the Financial Times as an anti-Shell website “which has long been a thorn in the side of Shell”.
In June 2004 my son John and I published articles on the website relating to Shell Malaysia and its former production geologist Dr John Huong. Eight Shell companies within the Royal Dutch Shell Group, five registered in Malaysia, one in the Caribbean, one in The Netherlands and one in the UK, subsequently collectively sued Dr Huong in Malaysia for alleged defamation in respect of the articles.
When I became aware of this dramatic unprecedented action by eight huge oil companies against one unemployed former Shell employee, I sent a fax (on 6 July 2004) to the Judge hearing the case to advise him that Dr Huong was not guilty of the allegations made against him by Shell Malaysia. I accepted sole responsibility for the publication. I pointed out that the website cited in the writ issued by the plaintiff companies – the “website Shell Whistleblower No 2” – has never existed. I faxed a copy of the same communication to TH Liew, the law firm acting on behalf of the EIGHT plaintiff Royal Dutch Shell companies.
In other words I informed everyone involved that the Shell Malaysia plaintiff companies were suing the wrong party in respect of the wrong website. The whole proceedings were a complete fiasco but the pantomime has been allowed to drag on for over three years.
Some two years after proceedings commenced I was asked to provide an affidavit which basically confirmed what I had stated in the letter faxed to the Judge. This was supplied towards the end of May 2006 when I was aged 89. In response, the Shell plaintiff companies demanded that I should be cross-examined in Malaysia in relation to my sworn testimony.
The last time I heard anything on the subject was a year ago, in August 2006, when the Shell plaintiff companies were still pursuing the application for me to be cross-examined. After the long silence when I was kept in the dark, I decided on the advice of my son to send an email about the matter on Friday 3rd August to Mr Michiel Brandjes, the Company Secretary and General Counsel Corporate of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. My son said that Mr Brandjes had always dealt efficiently and properly with any matters he had raised.
Earlier on Monday morning, despite being on holiday, Mr Brandjes very kindly sent me an email message via his Blackberry saying: –
Your request by email refers.
We are surprised that Mr Huong’s lawyers did not inform you that the court already decided months ago that cross examination could be done by video conference. In addition the .Malaysian Shell companies have waived the right to cross examin you on your affidavit altogether in this matter on compassionate grounds..
I hope this resolves the issues you have raised.
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld
The entire correspondence, which concluded with me expressing my sincere thanks to Mr Brandjes, can be viewed via this link:
Mr Brandjes acted in a decent gentlemanly way and did so expeditiously. The same cannot be said about the Shell plaintiff companies and TH Liew.
What this all means is that although three years have passed, we are now back to the point when I faxed my letter to the Judge admitting responsibility for the relevant postings. The only difference is that Shell is now unconditionally accepting my testimony which clears Dr Huong.
In the meantime, Dr Huong has had the litigation hanging over his head and has been threatened by Shell with imprisonment for contempt almost from the outset of the litigation and again in 2006. Proceedings on this case were served on him in the Industrial High Court where he is suing Shell for wrongful dismissal. The tactics were presumably meant to catch him by surprise in the hope that this would unsettle his concentration in his case against Shell. Proceedings were also served on Dr Huong at his home at night. Again a tactic designed to intimidate him and his family.
Dr Huong has had no prospect of finding alternative employment with the ligation still hanging over him. He has also had to fund his defence, an enormously expensive enterprise which has drawn in his extended family to support him, a David fighting EIGHT Goliaths.
I am surprised that no one at Shell seems to have realised how this is perceived by the outside world with EIGHT oil companies ganging up against one human being, threatening him with imprisonment year after year and using underhand tactics, as described above, to apply maximum pressure. All of this was done despite knowing within days of issuing proceedings over three years ago that Shell was, as I have said, suing the wrong party in respect of the wrong website.
I can only speculate that the strong arm tactics used against Dr Huong were designed to make an example of him, perhaps to deter the several hundred other former Shell employees suing Shell in Malaysia from speaking out publicly about the way they have been badly treated.
I have always maintained that it is absolutely ridiculous in any event for Shell to claim that its reputation was damaged by the relevant articles. My letter to the Judge in July 2004 contained the following paragraph: –
Shell’s action in issuing a Writ based on damage to its reputation is unbelievably bad timing on their part, as the first Observer article contains two survey lists relating to brand/company reputation. The top 10 and the worst ten; Shell is top of the “Worst” list. In other words, it now has the WORST reputation of any company. How can you damage a vehicle which has already been crushed? Frankly it is laughable (but not to Dr Huong) for Shell to issue such proceedings when its reputation is at an all time low.
In a reputation rankings survey published by The Wall Street Journal in December 2005, Shell’s reputation was again ranked in the Bottom 10 (Worst Reputations) alongside Enron.
Not much has changed since then.
In the 100 Best Global Brands 2007 rankings compiled by Interbrand published in August 2007 by Business Week magazine, Shell was ranked at a disgraceful 93 out of 100 on the basis that “Shell was damaged by a scandal over overstated reserves…” a reference to the Royal Dutch Shell multi-billion dollar securities fraud in 2004.
Hence my argument that Shell has no reputation to defend. It remains at rock bottom. Shell’s track record of fines for pollution and illegal activities, as set out in the Wikipedia article “Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell”, speaks for itself.
The vindictive action against Dr Huong was ordered by your predecessor, Jon Chadwick, who was no doubt trying to prove his credentials as a ruthless Country Chairman deserving of promotion to join the equally unappealing bunch of hard-nosed unscrupulous fat cats at the helm of Shell. I have heard many comments about Jon Chadwick, none of them flattering. Unfortunately you have inherited his unsavoury legacy in terms of outstanding litigation involving former employees.
I used the word “vindictive” because I believe the action against Dr Huong, a deeply religious man of the highest integrity, was taken as a revenge for his internal whistle blowing which was conscience driven. Dr Huong warned about investors being deceived by inflated reserves figures. This was prior to the reserves fraud being revealed to an astonished world. Dr Huong also warned about corrupted Shell Helicopter safety procedures in Malaysia when such matters were his responsibility. His warnings on that subject were also ignored and at least one Shell helicopter subsequently fell into the sea.
The decision to accept my affidavit without cross examination has been presented as an act of “compassion”. That suggestion might have been easier to digest if anyone had bothered to notify me at the time the decision was made. The fact that the application was made when I was already 89 does not suggest a compassionate company. What other multinational would stoop so low to file an application against an 89 year old person for them to travel half way round the world for a cross-examination? I also have suspicions about why the matter was allowed to drag on for over a year. Was someone hoping that time would catch up with me?
Now that Shell has accepted that it has blundered in commencing proceedings against Dr Huong, I trust that he will be reinstated, his pension put back in order, legal costs paid and an appropriate compensation package agreed to cover the highly stressful ordeal to which he and his family has been wrongfully subjected. I would also strongly recommend that you fire TH Liew for their role in the litigation shambles.
On my part, I will continue to campaign for Shell management to abide by the Shell Statement of General Business Principles pledging honesty, integrity, openness and respect for people in all of its dealings. If management deeds matched its fine words, all of the scandals in recent years, including the ill fated and deeply flawed litigation against Dr Huong, would have been avoided.