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The new Untouchables

From our October 2004 Shell News Archive

Daily Mail (UK): The new Untouchables

“Sir Philip Watts, former chairman of Shell, plainly hopes that the checks and balances of British corporate justice will save him from the hands of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).”: “The quarrel has a hidden significance. Watts is personally under investigation on both sides of the Atlantic. The SEC apparently is interested in extraditing him to the United States to face allegations. Watts and his lawyers are proclaiming his innocence, but their tactics may also tie the British regulators in knots and keep the Americans at bay.”

Alex Brummer,

19 October 2004

BRITISH financial policing all too often looks dysfunctional. The time taken to conduct investigations and to bring charges more often than not runs to years not months. Cases frequently fall through the regulatory gaps.

And when the authorities seek to demonstrate the firm hand of regulation they find themselves pinned back by appeals tribunals. This is before European human rights law is brought into play.

The disclosure that Malcolm Walker, the founder and former chairman of Iceland, will not be prosecuted after four years of probes into allegations of insider trading is a case in point.

The Walker allegations were passed to the Serious Fraud Office by the Financial Services Authority*, which conducted the initial inquiry. At the time that the FSA conducted its probe, it had no means of taking the matter further because it was still to inherit its market abuse powers.

The Department of Trade & Industry, the traditional dispenser of corporate justice, showed no real interest. The SFO found it impossible to proceed because the burden of proof for insider trading cases was so high. So Walker is now able to say he is ‘totally vindicated’.

Sir Philip Watts, former chairman of Shell, plainly hopes that the checks and balances of British corporate justice will save him from the hands of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Watts has accused the FSA of persecuting him by associating him personally with its decision to fine Shell £17m for covering up the shrinking size of its oil reserves.

The FSA has decided not to take the matter lying down and has referred it to the Financial Services and Markets Tribunal in an effort to clear the air. The quarrel has a hidden significance. Watts is personally under investigation on both sides of the Atlantic. The SEC apparently is interested in extraditing him to the United States to face allegations.

Watts and his lawyers are proclaiming his innocence, but their tactics may also tie the British regulators in knots and keep the Americans at bay.

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