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NYC trial date for racketeering claims against Shell

Newsday

October 9, 2008

By LARRY NEUMEISTER | Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK – A February date has been set for a trial of racketeering claims accusingRoyal Dutch Shell PLC of being complicit in decisions by Nigeria’s military government to hang oil industry opponents. 

Playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other oil industry opponents were executed in November 1995, after a military tribunal convicted them of murdering four political rivals. Their heirs filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan the next year. 

Shell was once a major driller in Nigeria’s oil-rich Ogoni region. The lawsuit alleged Shell made payments and provided arms to security forces that it knew abused local communities. 

During a hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood set a Feb. 9 trial date. 

She said she would rule later on whether the plaintiffs can introduce at trial an internal Shell report. Plaintiffs’ attorney Carey R. D’Avino said it included the results of interviews with Shell employees about disturbances in Nigeria and Shell’s relationship with the Nigerian government and its military. 

According to D’Avino, the document says Shell’s “mode of operation in Nigeria exacerbates conflicts in the local communities.” 

Thomas Rafferty, a lawyer for the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. and Shell Transport and Trading Co. PLC, said the report should be disqualified from use at trial because it was prepared long after the events at issue in the case occurred. They happened in the 1990s. 

He said Shell oil production in Ogoni ended in the early 1990s. D’Avino said there are still Shell facilities in Nigeria, however. 

Rory O. Millson, another Shell lawyer, said the plaintiffs had never identified anyone with personal knowledge of the allegations in the lawsuit. 

Millson said it was important that the trial take place soon because “our witnesses are getting older, and they are not going to live forever.” 

The witnesses, Millson said, include a defendant, Brian Anderson, the former head of Shell’s Nigerian operation. 

“He is retired, but every time he does another business venture, there is an issue that he is accused in this court of being, in essence, a murderer,” Millson said. “I believe he is entitled to have a resolution.” 

In a release, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., the playwright’s son, said the family was greatly encouraged that a trial seems imminent, granting his father’s wish that Shell be forced into court. 

“We hope, ultimately, that this will reinforce the message that nonviolence and the rule of law are the foundations of true justice, especially at a time when the unacceptable legacy of injustice poses a clear and present danger to lives, the environment and energy security in the Niger Delta and around the globe,” he said. 

Militants have waged a campaign of attacks on oil installations in Nigeria in recent years, seeking to force the nation’s government to send more oil-industry revenues to their impoverished areas. The attacks helped send global oil prices surging to all-time highs earlier this year. 

A spokesman for Nigeria’s state oil company said last month that militant attacks are now cutting the country’s daily oil production by about 1 million barrels a day, or 40 percent of what the country produced before the militant campaign began three years ago. 

http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny–shell-nigeria1008oct08,0,6475654.story

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