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John Donovan Russian intervention cost billions – no denial by Shell

Documents released by Royal Dutch Shell Plc under the Data Protection Act to John Donovan, a prominent critic of the world’s largest oil company, show that Shell does not deny that his intervention in the Sakhalin2 project in Russia cost Shell billions – according to the Sunday Times – $22 billion.

Shell internal correspondence from December 2006 to March 2007 reveal that Shell was concerned that:

“…the Sunday Times has picked up the Sakhalin/drilling leaked e-mail story from Donovan’s website, They are responding with agree Os and As that have been used previously with the Guardian, but are first trying to kill the story by pointing out that is old news – slim chance that this will work.”

The story said that insider information supplied by John Donovan to the Russian government official Oleg Mitvol, known as the “Kremlin attack dog”, had cost Shell $22 billion, according to calculations made by the newspaper based on information from Shell annual accounts.

The article also featured an interview with Mitvol in which he indicated his surprise at the lack of a fight put up by Shell before it surrendered its majority stakeholding in the project. The interview with him was mentioned in a Shell internal email dated Saturday 3 February 2007. Later that same day, just hours before planned publication on Sunday 4 February, the article, which was so embarrassing to Shell senior management, was killed.

A Shell internal email dated 22 March 2007 headed “Subject: RE: News Management Grid”, reported our speculation that Shell had managed to suppress the article. There was no confirmation, nor any denial.

A Shell internal email dated 20 July 2009 discussed a Sunday Times article that was published on 19 July 2009,two years after the aborted article. The new article, which had been scrutinized by Shell, contained the following reference to the same subject:

In 2005, when the Kremlin was building a case against Shell over the Sakhalin gas project, the Donovans provided confidential documents regarding alleged environmental infractions directly to Oleg Mitvol, the Russian minister who led the case. Shell was ultimately forced to sell a stake to the Russians, leading to billions in lost revenue. Mitvol publicly acknowledged the help provided by the Donovans in building his case.

The Shell email took issue with a reference in the article to the outcome of the most recent High Court action John Donovan brought against Shell. The person who authored the email was apparently misled by the Shell press statement issued at the time, which was a classic example of Shell Media spin (outright deception).There was however, no challenge to the veracity of the statement about Shell Sakhalin losses.

An extract from a recent Guardian article covering the same issue:

Four years ago Shell was embroiled in a bitter dispute with Russia’s environmental regulator over drilling for gas at Sakhalin Island. It was eventually forced to relinquish its majority stake in the project, costing Shell billions in lost revenue. Later, the regulator, Oleg Mitvol, publicly acknowledged the Donovans’ help in getting information about alleged claims of environmental abuses by Shell.

It is notable that in none of the Shell internal communications has Shell ever taken issue with the claim that the involvement of John Donovan and his website royaldutchshellplc.com in Sakhalin2, did indeed cost Shell billions. It also resulted in the resignation of the Project Director and Deputy Chairman of Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, David Greer. But that is another story (scandal).

Related extracts…

Prospect Magazine: Rise of the gripe site: 25 February 2007

…it is the home of www.royaldutchshellplc.com, a website which can claim to have cost Shell billions of dollars—and helped Vladimir Putin score another victory over western energy interests.

one world trust Accountability in Action Newsletter July 2007:

Royaldutchshellplc.com – The power of a website:

The site has not only cost Shell billions of dollars in Russia, but Prospect Magazine reports that the Ogoni tribe of Nigeria also use the website to spread information about Shell’s activities in the Niger Delta, and that even Shell insiders unhappy with the company use it.

UPDATE April 2012

Oleg Mitvol confirmed again in an interview aired in Europe by the German TV broadcaster ARD and by the LINK channel in the USA, that John Donovan’s important role in Shell’s loss of its majority stake in Sakhalin Energy.

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