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Thirty Royal Dutch/Shell employees questioned by SEC in reserves probe

San Francisco Chronicle: Thirty Royal Dutch/Shell employees questioned by SEC in reserves probe

Monday, June 28, 2004

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (Dow Jones/AP) — Royal Dutch/Shell Group executives said Monday that 30 employees have so far been questioned by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which is investigating the Anglo-Dutch oil giant for improper reserves disclosure.

The executives were being quizzed at the group’s annual general meeting, which is taking place concurrently in The Hague and London.

Shell, the world’s third-largest publicly traded oil company by market capitalization, didn’t specify who those employees are.

The SEC probe kicked off informally following Shell’s first downgrade of its proven oil and gas reserves in January. That and subsequent downgrades ultimately reduced Shell’s proven reserves as of Dec. 31, 2002, by 4.47 billion barrels of oil equivalent, or around 23 percent.

Reserves are the amount of oil and gas a company expects to commercially pump to the surface. They are a crucial measure for investors of an oil company’s performance and future value.

The initiation of the SEC’s formal, nonpublic investigation in late February meant the U.S. watchdog’s enforcement division has the power of subpoena to get information.

The reserves scandal also sparked a number of class action lawsuits in the U.S., and prompted calls from investors for a major shake-up of the group’s complicated corporate structure.

Also Monday, Shell supervisory board chairman Aad Jacobs said he had a lunch meeting with the company’s former head of exploration and production, Walter van de Vijver, in November 2003 where van de Vijver informed him that there were problems with the booking of proven oil reserves. Jacobs didn’t specify what was discussed at the meeting.

The company also said Monday it will reconsider including the building of hydrocarbon reserves as a component in bonus-package awards for managers after a review of the company’s corporate governance is completed.

“We have taken reserves off the bonus scorecard for this year,” Malcolm Brinded, managing director of Shell Transport & Trading Co., told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting. “However, we will look again, because reserves replacement is an essential component of our (growth) targets.”

The prospect that reserves-building could return as an element in Shell management’s bonus packages could set off alarm bells. Earlier this year, Shell abruptly cancelled the practice in a bid to quell shareholder anger over the reserves scandal.

Shares of Royal Dutch traded Monday morning at $52.88, up 60 cents, or 1.2 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of Shell Transport & Trading traded at $46.21, up 43 cents, or 0.9 percent, on the NYSE.

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