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MarketWatch: U.S. court orders fine against Shell lawyers in Nigeria case

Last Update: 5:26 AM ET Oct 18, 2006

LONDON (MarketWatch) — A New York court has fined Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s (RDSB.LN) lawyers $5,000 each after it ruled they had broke legal rules when alleging their colleagues had knowingly let Nigerian witnesses lie.

The decision was taken on Sept. 29, but obtained this week by Dow Jones Newswires, and relates to a case where, the same day, the court also rejected a Shell motion to have counts of “crimes against humanity” and “torture” dismissed. The lawsuit alleged the company was complicit in human rights violations in Nigeria’s Ogoniland in the mid 1990s.

The rulings come as the Anglo-Dutch oil major has been warned it could lose a license on a block in the region which it had to abandon following unrest in the same period of the 1990s.

In a previous statement, lawyers with Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP, which represent Shell in the case, said “there can be no doubt that the witnesses are giving testimony that (their) counsel know to be false.” But the judge ruled that “was no basis (for) the claim.” The rare decision also is directed to reimburse plaintiffs counsel for one-third of the attorneys fees relating to the improper allegations.

However, the judge didn’t enforce any sanction regarding two other statements which concerned payments by the plaintiffs’ lawyers to cover the transportation of Nigerian witnesses in order to give testimony. Cravath Swaine & Moore didn’t return a request for comment and Shell couldn’t immediately comment.

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