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Houdini Watts: The Shell Game



On BBC TV on 15th July 2004, the Shell oil and gas reserves scandal was described as the biggest corporate fraud in history. Investors had been swindled out of billions of dollars on an international basis. It therefore follows that Hollywood may soon be casting for a movie telling this incredible true story.

Under the disreputable leadership of Sir Philip Watts, the ambitious former Shell Chairman with a hard man image gained partly in **Nigeria, Shell’s oil reserves and reputation vanished, wiping several billion dollars off Shell’s share value early in 2004. Sir Philip then performed an extraordinary escape with a $2 million pay off, ending up with an $18 million pension for himself; an amazing trick by any standards.

Hence the suggested movie working title: –

“Houdini Watts: The Shell Game”

A megastar will ideally be needed to play Sir Philip, a real life “Gordon Gekko”. In fact the memorable speech of Michael Douglas in the role of Gordon Gekko (now part of movie folklore) faithfully captures the spirit of Sir Philip: –

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, is that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

Gordon Gekko, “Wall Street” (1997)

The Shell scandal is a true tale of cover-up, lies, deceit, multibillion dollar class action law suits, mass resignations of Group Managing Directors, investigations by regulatory authorities and the US Justice Department; pay offs, tainted gasoline, environmental pollution on an epic scale; ruthless exploitation of the Ogoni people, Shell undercover agents infiltrating and sabotaging Shell’s perceived enemies and Shell’s formally undisclosed sinister association with the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6 of “James Bond” fame, via a private spy firm.

Will it be an action film, a disaster movie, or a horror story? Or since Shell management has been so incompetent, a comedy/farce could be more appropriate (if millions of people had not lost part of their savings/pensions funds).

Some may think that Jack Nicholson would be a far better choice for the potential role, as Mel may be too good looking for the part bearing in mind that Sir Phil bears a passing resemblance to Dr Evil. However Mel may suit on the grounds of the passion he could bring to the part and it is possible some shareholders who believe in conspiracy theory might like to see some payback; it may also be what women want. If you would like to nominate a movie star to play the challenging role of Sir Phil, please email your suggestion and your reasons for the nomination, to [email protected]

When the criminal line of inquiry is completed, Sir Philip may find it necessary to demonstrate his escape artist skills again, this time from a prison cell. If he does end up in jail, it will of course be sad for him and his family, as Sir Philip started out his working life in an exemplary manner, devoting a year of his life to teaching in Africa under the voluntary services overseas scheme. Apparently he also donated part of his income to charity. It seems that money and power eventually corrupts even the best of us.

*As publicly described by Mr Farmer, a Shell shareholder, during the AGM of Shell held in London in June 2004.

** The Mail on Sunday article published on 4th April 2004 tells how Sir Philip allegedly helped set up and fund a sinister private army of Police spies in Nigeria between 1991 and 1994 in his then capacity as Managing Director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Limited.

For commentary about the remarkable admittances made by Shell click here

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