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BLOOMBERG: Watts Accuses U.K.’s FSA of `Mischief’ in Shell Reserves Probe

BLOOMBERG: Watts Accuses U.K.’s FSA of `Mischief’ in Shell Reserves Probe

“The regulator, which didn’t mention Watts’s name in the penalty notice, rejected the accusations and said it’s still probing Watts.”: “The watchdog’s imposed a record 17 million-pound ($30 million) fine on Shell last year amid investor lawsuits, the loss of the company’s top-tier credit rating and the departure of Watts and two other executives. Clearing his name may provide Watts with ammunition for a defense in any class-action suits against him.”

Posted Tuesday 26 July 2005

(Bloomberg) — Philip Watts, ousted as chairman of Royal Dutch Shell Plc last year, accused the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority of “mischief” for implicating him personally when it punished the company for overstating oil reserves.

Watts today stepped up a campaign to clear his name of wrongdoing by asking an independent tribunal to support his claim that the FSA “identified and prejudiced” him when it published findings of an inquiry into Shell and fined the company last July. The regulator, which didn’t mention Watts’s name in the penalty notice, rejected the accusations and said it’s still probing Watts.

The watchdog’s imposed a record 17 million-pound ($30 million) fine on Shell last year amid investor lawsuits, the loss of the company’s top-tier credit rating and the departure of Watts and two other executives. Clearing his name may provide Watts with ammunition for a defense in any class-action suits against him.

The FSA’s reference to matters suggesting Watts was guilty of “negligent wrongdoing is exactly the form of mischief” the law is designed to prevent, said David Pannick QC, representing Watts. It “magnified” the unfairness because “when the final notice against Shell was issued the authority was still considering the role of Sir Philip.”

Both sides agreed, in separate arguments to the two-member Financial Services and Markets Tribunal, that Watts wasn’t explicitly identified by name in the FSA’s notice of the Shell penalty. FSA lawyers demanded that the case be dismissed and said the regulator hasn’t reached conclusions about Watts’s personal responsibility in the overstatement of reserves last year.

`No Reference’

“The FSA did not identify him and it did not prejudicially identify him,” said Anthony Grabiner QC, representing the regulator. “Even if it did identify him it certainly did not prejudice him. There is simply no reference to or singling out of any individual at all.”

Last week, the FSA pledged to fix its enforcement process by disclosing more information to companies and people under investigation after it found flaws in procedures during a five- month internal review.

Watts, who said last September that the FSA decisions had implicated him in “unprecedented misconduct,” asked the tribunal today to declare that the regulator should have served him a warning notice at the same time as it rebuked Shell.

He also wants the FSA to withdraw the Shell penalty from its Web site and make a public statement that the notice has been removed pending the conclusion of his probe.

Pannick also said the FSA could have delayed publishing the Shell settlement until it had concluded its investigation of Watts.

Alternatively, it could have avoided harming Watts by focusing on “collective corporate wrongdoing” in its findings, Pannick told the London-based tribunal, which hears disputes related to Financial Service Authority decisions.

Watts, whose legal bills are covered by Shell, is also represented by former FSA enforcement law chief, Martyn Hopper of London-based law firm Herbert Smith.

Watts was ousted in March 2004 as chairman and Shell was fined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the FSA.

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