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The Royal Treatment of Shell by the Dutch Government?

English translation of an article published by the Dutch newspaper NRC

Shell Corruption case: Minister Grapperhaus spoke regularly with the OM about a possible settlement

Article on PAGE 7

CORRUPTION RESEARCH

Minister wanted to know everything about possible Shell settlement

Minister Grapperhaus said he would not interfere in the criminal case against Shell. He did, however, talk to the OM (Dutch Public Prosecution Service) about settling several times.

By our editors Carola Houtekamer and Merijn Rengers

AMSTERDAM. On Monday 2 July 2018, Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be sitting at Donald Trump in the Oval Office for 45 minutes. While the American president complains about the European car industry, Rutte tries to keep the atmosphere good. That is in the interest of the Netherlands. Afterwards, Trump has half an hour for five men that Rutte has taken to Washington and who are waiting in an adjoining room. They are the leaders of Philips, Schiphol, Aegon, NXP and Ben van Beurden, the boss of the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell.

It happened to be high-level talks about Shell in The Hague a few hours earlier, during a confidential consultation between Ferdinand Graper- haus (CDA) at his Ministry of Justice and Security (J&V). At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Grapperhaus receives a member of the leadership of the Public Prosecution Service and two officers from the National and Functional Prosecutor’s Office. The conversation is about the confidential issue of “Etosha”, the criminal investigation into the suspicion of unprecedented bribery in Nigeria by Shell.

Immediately after the meeting, Grapperhaus asks for a new appointment on “Etosha” in the very short term. And shortly thereafter again. After all, this is a very sensitive subject: a possible settlement or “high transaction” with Shell in this corruption case. The perspective, a civil servant writes, is “media attention to the respective issues, linked to the High Transaction policy.”

Settlements with large companies are controversial and generate a lot of media attention, they know at the ministry. That happened when the OM in 2013 settled for hundreds of millions with Rabobank. The million-dollar comparison with ING, which does not have its compliance in order, will also lead to a stir. And Shell is in more awkward files. Such as the unpaid bills for the broken houses in Groningen, where it is involved through the NAM.

Strongly against a settlement

The close involvement of Graperhaus and the senior public prosecutor in a possible mega settlement with Shell is evidenced by internal documents released this week by Grapperhaus.

The reason was an appeal to the Government Information (Public Access) Act (Wob) by the Amsterdam lawyer Barbara van Straaten. She acts on behalf of four action groups (two from England, one from Italy and one from Nigeria) who have initiated the international investigation into corruption in Nigeria by Shell and the Italian oil company Eni. They are strongly against a settlement.

Grapperhaus denies that he is involved in the criminal case, according to the Wob documents. At the beginning of 2019 he certainly wrote to the action groups: “Given the separation of powers, it is not appropriate that I have any difficulty at this stage or give my opinion on the matter.”

Van Straaten made the Wob request to speed up the Dutch criminal investigation, which has been publicly known since the FIOD investigation service in 2016, together with Italian investigators, raided the head office in The Hague.

The Italians are in a hurry with the case. Later this year, the Italian prosecutor Fabio de Pasquale is expected to hold a fiery argument in court in Milan – with high criminal demands. And explain how Shell and Eni bribed the Nigerian political elite for more than one billion euros in exchange for rights to the enormous OPL-245 oil field off the coast of Nigeria.

The Netherlands seems to make less sense am in a public court case against the largest company in the country. The criminal investigation by the FIOD has been standing still for months. Shell’s objections. And witness the documents was in the top of the OM and the ministry about a deal with Shell, which is a corridor would make the court superfluous.
But even such a deal is now not in sight.

Lawyer Van Straaten says in an explanation that she was surprised by the amount of documents she received after her Wob request “And then we haven’t even got half. There has been consultation at a very high level, almost monthly, also informally. It talked about a settlement that my clients already feared. While something as big as bribery should be discussed by Shell in a public session.”

There was never any communication about all the consultations, says Van Straaten. “Graperhaus has always said that the Public Prosecution Service is conducting independent investigations and that politics is not involved in this case.” Of course, ultimately, the minister is politically responsible for a major settlement, says Van Straaten. “But normally it only comes into view when the Public Prosecution Service has completed the investigation.”

SP MP Michiel van Nispen calls ‘the royal treatment of Shell’ in a response ‘a form of class justice’. “The minister should not, of course, interfere in specific criminal cases.”

The documents released show that Grapperhaus is not the only one who wants to be kept informed of the progress of the case. At the end of 2016, Chris Breedveld, director of the King’s Cabinet at that time, is already informing the Shell case of which the contours are already visible. And if, in September 2018, two people involved in the corruption case were sentenced to years in prison in the Nigerian corruption case, Graperperhaus and the PPS summit with each other about the conviction.

Shell does not comment. And rapperhaus spokesperson says the minister is always informed about sensitive matters, “to fulfill his political responsibility for the OM.”

TEXT IN BOX

The Netherlands seems to be less interested in a public lawsuit against Shell

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