By Alfred and John Donovan
Walter van de Vijver was the Group Managing Director of Royal Dutch Shell Group who arguably blew the whistle on the Shell reserves fraud (one of the biggest securities frauds in history) when he brought matters to a head by complaining to the Group Chairman, Sir Philip Watts:
I am becoming sick and tired about lying about the extent of our reserves issues and the downward revisions that need to be done because of far too aggressive/optimistic bookings.
In a press statement issued by Shell on 3rd March 2004 following activist shareholder outcry over the reserves fraud, Shell claimed:
Mr Walter van de Vijver has stepped down from the Board of Management of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and as a Group Managing Director, by mutual consent. Mr van de Vijverâs duties as Chief Executive of Shell’s Exploration and Production business will be assumed by Mr Brinded…
This was a classic example of spin (deception). We can now read the dramatic and emotional account by van de Vijver of how in fact he was brutally pressurised into resigning. We have published his deposition in a a related class action lawsuit brought by Shell stock holders.
A number of Shell notables were involved in the concerted plot to push van de Vijver over the edge (apparently including the then Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer). Basically it seems that there was a queue of Shell directors waiting to enter his office every 30 minutes ready and eager to knife him. He resigned as a result of the cumulative assault, shocked, humiliated and disgusted at the shabby inhuman treatment he received from his colleagues.
This is his remarkable account of the way he was hounded out of the company after decades of loyal service to Shell in a job he loved. The questions were put to van de Vijver by attorneys during his deposition held in Washington D.C. in January 2007. The answers were all from van de Vijver.
EXTRACT FROM THE DEPOSITION OF WALTER VAN DE VIJVER
Q. When you say “sudden exit,” I take it you weren’t expecting to leave Shell at that time; is that correct?
A. It was the biggest shock in my life, totally unexpected.
Q. Why was it a big shock?
A. I, I thought at that stage, having been the driving force around this whole issue of getting clarity around reserves, I thought I would get a reward for it rather than getting something happen to me like that.
Q. Why don’t you take us a little bit through what had happened. How did you — how was it broken to you that you were being terminated from Shell?
A. I was — I was just sitting in my office on a Wednesday when we had a regular board meeting, a conference. I was preparing my material for that, for that meeting, which included the close-out of the previous year, et cetera, and suddenly two of the board members, Aad Jacobs, who was the Chairman, Royal Dutch, and Lord Oxburgh, entered my office and asked to talk to me.
Q. And was this on March 3rd?
Q. Now, was this meeting with Lord Oxburgh and Aad Jakob scheduled?
A. No. Totally out of nowhere.
Q. So what did they say to you when they entered your office?
A. They told me that they had lost confidence in me and that they basically wanted me to leave, resign.
Q. Did they explain why they had lost confidence in you?
Q. What did you say in response?
A. I was just totally — I mean I just broke down. I was just totally and utterly shocked.
Q. How long did the meeting last?
A. Maybe two minutes.
Q. So they just came in, said —
A. Delivered the message, and they said they would come back, because they, they wanted me to sign a paper.
Q. Did they say what paper they wanted you to sign?
A. Well, that I would resign, that I would leave, because they wanted to issue a press release that day at 11:00 or something like that.
Q. Did they come back with a Letter of Resignation?
A. Yes. I mean when that happened, the first I did was, uh, was call my wife, and she, she immediately came to the office. I was in a pretty bad state then. I was just so deeply shocked. I, I then — did I contact John directly? Because I basically was just so shocked, and, uh, and thereafter indeed some of the other board members and people would come in trying to basically get me to, to sign that note and leave the office as quickly as possible. So people like, like Ricciardi came in. I think John Hofmeister came in. I think Jeroen van der Veer came in. It was just all trying to put pressure on me to, to sign the, the letter and to then pack and leave.
Q. Who is Mr. Ricciardi?
A. He is one of the board members.
Q. And who is John Hofmeister?
A. The head of HR, Human Resources in Shell.
Q. And Jeroen van der Veer is the same person you identified earlier?
Q. How would you describe your relationship with Mr. Hofmeister?
Q. Why is that?
A. It — I always tried to keep him at a distance. I did not have full confidence in him.
Q. Why didn’t you have full confidence in him?
A. I always felt when, when, when I was in his surrounding, that he somehow was trying to, to manipulate events and influence outcomes.
Q. Are there any particular instances that you can recall?
A. Often it had to do with, with people. I mean clearly, as HR person, he was trying to influence my thinking about, judgment about people or wanting to sort of help me scheming things I had, and I always sort of wanted to have my own judgment, and I never quite felt very comfortable with —
Q. And you’re referring now with regard to personnel within your organization, the EP organization?
Q. When — did the three gentlemen that you identified — Ricciardi, Hofmeister and van der Veer — did they come together to your office or separately?
A. Separately. They sort of had, I guess, sort of an agreed process of every half hour to check in to me to make sure that I was making progress in, in signing the letter.
Q. Did you sign the letter?
A. Yes. You can imagine at that time I was just so shocked and so deeply, deeply insulted, that — what can you do?
Q. Were there people within Shell who you believed should have been terminated?
A. That’s not for me to judge.
Q. Well, with regard to the, the whole reserves issue that we’re here for today, at the time did you feel that there were people who were responsible who should have been terminated?
A. Phil Watts and Judy Boynton.
Q. Why did you feel that way about Mr. Watts?
A. I, I had the feel that, that clearly with, with a lot of things I was dealing with, were things that were from the time that he was, uh, was running E&P.
THE RELATED SHELL STATEMENT ON 3 MARCH 2004
Exhibit 289: Videotaped Deposition of former Royal Dutch Shell Group MD and Chief Executive of Shell Exploration & Production – Mr Walter van de Vijver, in Washington, D.C. 16 Wednesday, January 31st, 2007: 17 9:39 a.m. (first 390 pages)
Exhibit 290: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (70 pages)
Exhibit 291: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (65 pages)
Exhibit 292: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (60 pages)
Exhibit 293: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (65 pages)
Exhibit 294: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (61 pages)
Exhibit 319: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (16 pages)
Exhibit 320: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (21 pages)
Exhibit 321: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (36 pages)
Exhibit 322: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (37 pages)
Exhibit 323: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (14 pages)
Exhibit 324: Walter van de Vijver Deposition (15 pages)