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DAILY EXPRESS: BUMBLING SHELL BORDERS ON FARCE

DAILY EXPRESS: BUMBLING SHELL BORDERS ON FARCE

“HAPPY memories of Peter Sellers’ portrayal of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau”

STEPHEN KAHN
CITY EDITOR
13 August 2004

HAPPY memories of Peter Sellers’ portrayal of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau were brought to mind yesterday in Shell’s official response to talk that a merger of its British and Dutch companies is on the cards. This would be a much more radical step than simply to unify the two boards in its ongoing bid to pacify shareholders in the wake of the oil reserves scandal.

“Nothing’s being ruled in or ruled out,” said a spokesman for the troubled oil giant. In a cod French accent it would have been a turn of phrase worthy of the great detective himself.

Almost everything else Shell does these days is likely to lead investors deeper into a state of shock, and yesterday was no exception. Whatever the company’s contractual obligations, a £2.5million severance payment to Walter van de Vijver is hard to swallow.

I will leave it to Shell’s litigious American shareholders to argue whether the company’s former exploration and production chief was a whistleblower who did not make enough noise.

He was, after all, the man who sent the smoking-gun e-mail to his then-boss Sir Philip Watts saying he was: “becoming sick and tired about lying about the extent of our reserves issues”.

The payment is yet one more obstacle to Shell’s bridge-rebuilding with its sorely tried investors.

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