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Former chairman of Shell loses appeal against regulator over reserves debacle

The Guardian (UK): Former chairman of Shell loses appeal against regulator over reserves debacle

Wednesday September 14, 2005

Terry Macalister

The former Shell chairman Sir Philip Watts vowed last night to keep fighting to clear his name, despite losing a tribunal case against the Financial Services Authority.

The oil executive, who lost his job last year after Shell admitted it had overstated oil reserves by 25%, in effect dismissed the tribunal’s findings and repeated his view that the regulator’s report was “flawed”.

Sir Philip took the FSA to the Financial Services and Markets Tribunal, claiming the regulator had damaged his reputation by allowing him to be identified in the censure of the firm, which arose out of the reserves issue. The FSA fined Shell £17m and ruled that Shell had engaged in “unprecedented misconduct”.

The FSA did not name Sir Philip but the former chairman argued that criticism of the firm was in effect an attack on his leadership. Because of that, he claimed, he should have been given prior sight of the FSA’s final ruling before it was published. Section 393 of the regulator’s rules stipulates that anyone censured must be informed so they can give their side of the story. This did not happen in the case of Sir Philip because he was not named.

A tribunal under the chairmanship of William Blair QC unanimously endorsed the FSA’s position and ruled against Sir Philip, saying: “The reference is dismissed.” It said in its ruling: “The fundamental point is … that the criticisms in it are made at the level of corporate personality, and are not made of individuals whether singularly or collectively.”

But the tribunal went on to say that this was a narrowly based case looking at FSA rules rather than the wider issues of the reserves case. “We emphasise that though we have found against the applicant on the construction of the statute, our decision involves no criticism of any kind against him,” it said.

Herbert Smith, Sir Philip’s solicitors, said the former Shell boss was “disappointed” by the decision, adding that it was “giving careful consideration to the tribunal’s reasoning”. The tribunal found that Sir Philip was not technically identified in the FSA’s final notice but did not make that position clear to the media at the time the notice was publicised, argued a written statement from the law firm.

“Sir Philip continues to believe that the FSA’s factual findings in the final notice against Shell are flawed. Sir Philip acted properly and in good faith at all times. He will continue his fight to clear his name and believes that he will be vindicated if any proceedings are instituted against him,” the solicitors’ statement added.

Shell had admitted in January 2004 that it had failed to give the correct reserves figures to the securities and exchange commission in the United States, which led to fines on both sides of the Atlantic, including a $120m (£66m) fine from the SEC for violating record-keeping, reporting and anti-trust regulations.

The announcement, which was followed by Shell downgrading its reserves a further four times – they are now 4.47bn barrels lower than in early 2004 – sent Shell’s shares spiralling downwards and led to the removal of both Sir Philip and his head of exploration. The problems also led to legal claims from angry investors, which continue to this day. Shell’s stock price slumped but has now recovered strongly under new management.,,1569356,00.html

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