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Shareholders to strike new blow against Shell directors

The Independent: Shareholders to strike new blow against Shell directors

By Tim Webb

27 June 2004

Up to a quarter of Shell’s shareholders will deliver a crushing vote of no confidence in the Anglo-Dutch oil giant’s management tomorrow.

Shareholders have warned that a “significant minority” will either abstain from or vote against the second resolution at the annual general meeting of the group’s Dutch arm in the Hague.

This asks them to approve the 2003 annual accounts. Under Dutch listing rules, Royal Dutch must ask shareholders to “discharge directors and managing directors of their responsibility in respect of their management for the year 2003”.

It is expected that despite the revolt, the resolution – usually a technicality – will be passed. But it will provide further humiliation for the embattled company and send a strong message that its management still does not enjoy the confidence of many shareholders. Investors want Shell to speed up the reform of its structure following its reserves scandal.

One UK-based investor said: “We do not know what we are signing off because we still don’t know fully what happened.” US-based shareholders are expected to lead the revolt.

Eric Knight of US investment fund Knight Vinke Institutional Partners, a major Royal Dutch shareholder, has been leading reform calls. He declined to comment on whether he would vote against the Royal Dutch directors, which includes group chairman Jeroen van der Veer. But he claimed he had the support of at least a tenth of the group’s shareholders in calling for changes to be made to the strategic review launched by Shell over the reserves scandal.

He wrote to the company last week, asking for a more detailed explanation of the review’s terms of reference. Mr Knight also wants shareholders to be able to nominate two independent members to the steering group overseeing the review.

Mr Knight said: “There is an opportunity for Shell to make changes without being forced to. If they show that they can go the extra mile, it will impress shareholders and I will be first to stand up and applaud.”

Shell’s UK arm will hold its AGM tomorrow in London, which also promises to be stormy. Robert Talbut, a fund manager at shareholder Isis, said: “Shell still needs to go some way to restore confidence.”

The Association of British Insurers, which will send representatives to the meeting in Docklands, will seek reassurances that Shell will maintain a dialogue during the year-long review. The ABI’s head of investment affairs, Peter Montagnon, said: “We are not looking for confrontation for the sake of it. The ball is in Shell’s court to come up with ideas for change that shareholders can support.”

Shell announced on Friday that former chairman Sir Philip Watts, who resigned over the reserves scandal, would receive a £1m pay-off and a £584,000 annual pension, despite indications he would not get anything.

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