By John Donovan
Information received from an Ogoni source seems to confirm press speculation that Shell is secretly engaged in out-of-court settlement negotiations with plaintiffs in the Wiwa v. Shell trial which on Wednesday was mysteriously adjourned again, apparently indefinitely.
The plaintiffs contend that Shell colluded with the Nigerian Military Government in the 1995 execution of 9 Ogoni activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa (above), after being convicted on trumped up charges.
We received an email on Wednesday from one of our U.S. based Ogoni sources, which includes the Wiwa family, expressing concern that compromise and betrayal involving key players may shortly result in a headline announcing: “Wiwi v. Shell Trial settled out of court”.
It is far from unusual for Shell to settle claims which have the potential to inflict serious damage to its reputation. I doubt if anyone in the world is as well qualified as me to comment on such matters, bearing in mind out -of-court settlements by Shell of six High Court actions and one County Court action I brought against the oil giant. All of the negotiations were initiated by Shell, all but one by Richard Wiseman, currently the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. All of the settlements included a confidentiality clause to keep the details secret from Shell stakeholders and the public.
Each approach by Shell was made only when Shell had exhausted every other means of stopping the smelly stuff from hitting the fan in open court. In the last case, this occurred in the midst of a cross-examination of a Shell key witness, AJL, a dishonest Shell National Promotions manager, Andrew Lazenby. I was accused of fraud, perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Shell and its lawyers bombarded us with threats and Wiseman admitted using an undercover agent who engaged in deception in the course of his covert activities. Fortunately he was caught red handed.
I note similar pressure tactics from Shell in the Wiwa v. Shell case. According to court documents lawyers acting for Shell have made accusations that witnesses for the plaintiffs have been bribed to give false evidence against Shell. The company has also tried to prevent an incriminating 93 page confidential report prepared for Shell in 2003 – Peace and Security in the Niger Delta – from being used in evidence against Shell. It contains an admission that Shell has fuelled strife, poverty and corruption through its activities in Nigeria
Shell has done everything possible over the years to block the trial which has caught the attention of the global media even before it starts. Since all attempts have failed, it may choose to solve the problem with hard cash rather then allowing the dirtiest of dirty laundry to be aired in court.
For anyone interested, this is what a Shell out-of-court settlement proposal looks like. Shell made the proposal days before AJL was due to be cross-examined under oath. As could be expected from Shell, it was a carrot and stick approach including an ultimatum. We turned the Peace Treaty down forcing Shell to make a revised offer just as our barrister was reaching the climax of his cross-examination of AJL.