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Outside auditors warned on Shell reserves

Reuters: Outside auditors warned on Shell reserves

“documents… indicate problems were flagged repeatedly to a wider circle of senior executives and board members than previously disclosed”

Thu 15 July, 2004 09:12

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An internal auditor at Royal Dutch/Shell notified the oil company’s outside auditors of potential problems with reserves bookings about two years before Shell disclosed it had overstated its holdings, says The Wall Street Journal.

The warnings to affiliates of KPMG International and PricewaterhouseCoopers International were contained in Shell documents reviewed by the newspaper, the Journal said on Thursday.

Royal Dutch Shell the world’s third-largest oil company, stunned investors in January with news it had overbooked oil and gas reserves by 20 percent.

It is unclear whether the internal warnings brought to the auditors qualified as an issue worth looking into at the time, the Journal said. While the reports discussed possible problems, the documents said that any overstatements likely would be minimal, according to the newspaper.

The newly revealed warnings, by then-top internal reserves auditor Anton Barendregt, said only a small part of Shell’s reserves were at risk of being overstated — about 1 percent of total company reserves for 2002, for example, the newspaper said.

However, the documents highlighted potentially serious systemic problems with Shell’s reserves reporting and also indicate that problems were flagged repeatedly to a wider circle of senior executives and board members than previously disclosed, according to the Journal.

Barendregt prominently flagged in both January 2002 and January 2003 that Shell’s bonus system may have encouraged the inflation of reserves bookings, the newspaper said.

A KPMG spokesman in London said it stood by its auditing work for Shell, but referred all other questions about the work to the oil company, according to the Journal. A spokeswoman in London for PricewaterhouseCoopers referred all questions about the firm’s auditing work to Shell, the newspaper said.

The Journal said a Shell spokesman declined to comment on “leaked and unverifiable” documents. The spokesman said the company was continuing to cooperate fully with authorities investigating the matter, the newspaper said.

(Posted by John Donovan)

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