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Kansas, other states’ pension funds involved in Shell litigation

Newsday.com: Kansas, other states’ pension funds involved in Shell litigation

 

By JOHN HANNA

Associated Press Writer

Posted 27 May 04

 

TOPEKA, Kan. — Public pension funds in eight states, including Kansas, are battling affiliates of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Cos. in federal court, alleging that the conglomerate misled investors about its oil and gas reserves.

 

Since January, Shell has downgraded the status of about 4.47 billion barrels of its oil and gas reserves. The controversy forced the company’s three top executives to resign.

 

Shell’s parent companies, the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. and Shell Transport & Trading Co., face 20 lawsuits in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. The company has a manufacturing, research and sales facility in Linden, N.J.

 

Most of the lawsuits were filed on behalf of individual shareholders, the first one in January. Participating are pension funds for teachers, police officers and other public employees in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, as well as the city of Detroit.

 

They are seeking to recover damages, claiming that because Shell misled investors about its oil and gas reserves, its stock prices were artificially inflated between December 1999 and January 2004. Kline said shareholders, including the public pension funds, were harmed as Shell’s stock later fell after it downgraded oil and gas reserves.

 

“What we’re alleging is that Royal Dutch/Shell intentionally and knowingly misrepresented its oil reserves,” Kline said at a news conference Wednesday. “We’re essentially taking on the world’s third-largest oil company.”

 

Shell spokesman Johan Zaayman, in Houston, said the company was aware of Kline’s news conference and comments, but “at this stage we have no further comment.”

 

Kline intervened in the first lawsuit involving Shell in March, on behalf of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The system, with about $9 billion in assets, provides benefits to about 59,000 retired teachers and government workers.

 

Executive Director Glenn Deck said the system has about 1.1 million shares of Shell Transport & Trading and an additional 527,000 shares of Royal Dutch Petroleum, together worth about $34.4 million.

 

Deck said the system’s losses are “a moving target” because of daily changes in international markets. Kline said his office is still trying to calculate potential damages.

 

“It is in the millions; the losses are in the millions,” Kline said.

 

Last month, Shell published an external investigator’s report disclosing dishonesty at the high levels, showing some bosses knew for almost two years that the company had overstated its reserves.

 

The furor led a number of executives to resign, including Shell’s chairman, chief financial officer and head of its exploration and production division. All three were named as defendants in the first lawsuit filed in New Jersey.

 

The company also is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and European regulators.

 

Shares of Royal Dutch Petroleum closed down 13 cents, at $49.95 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of Shell Transport & Trading closed down 24 cents, at $43.96.

 

Kline, a Republican, held his news conference Wednesday to criticize a decision by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, to veto $200,000 in funding for a white-collar crime unit in his office. Kline said the Shell litigation is an example of why the unit is needed.

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