Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image Dutch ambassador leaked information to Shell

“Shell extracts a lot of oil and gas from Nigerian soil, and that is associated with pollution, sabotage, tax lawsuits, protests from the local population and suspected corruption.”

English translation of a Dutch article by

Dutch ambassador leaked information to Shell

Nigeria Robert Petri, the Dutch ambassador to Nigeria, had been in post for less than a year and a half. He did not have a good relationship with his staff. And above all: wasn’t he too close to Shell?

Prime Minister Mark Rutte (l) and Shell chairman Ben van Beurden (r) visiting President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, autumn 2019. Photo Bart Maat / ANP

Merijn Rengers and Carola Houtekamer: 3 June 2020 at 22:40

The news in short:

At the end of 2017, the Dutch ambassador to Nigeria leaked confidential information about an extensive corruption investigation into Shell to the oil company itself.

After two internal investigations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs brought Ambassador Robert Petri back to the Netherlands in early 2019. The investigations revealed, among other things, a sick working atmosphere at the embassy.

Several partner organizations complained to the ministry that Petri was too much in Shell’s hand.

When Robert Petri, the stately, graying Dutch ambassador to Nigeria, flies to Bonny Island for a working visit on Friday 25 May 2018, he takes his wife Marijke with him. The small island – Texel – on the edge of the Niger Delta is an important transshipment point for the Nigerian oil and gas industry. From here, Shell, ENI, Chevron, Total and Seplat ship millions of liters of crude and liquefied gas all over the world.

The Petris, together with the Spanish ambassador to Nigeria, spend a day at Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG for short. The gas producer is owned by oil giant Shell, the Nigerian state and two other oil companies.

NLNG uses the arrival of diplomats to announce a variety of good deeds. Investments in tourism, roads, jobs. It expressly thanks the diplomats for their “unwavering support” in NLNG’s fight against additional gas taxation. And there are promotional gifts. Photos of Petri and his wife appearing on Twitter holding up a framed painting of a freighter.

It all looks like business as usual, for ambassadors.

But the eyebrows are raised at the Dutch embassy in Abuja. Who knew about this visit? Why is Marijke Petri in the picture again semi-officially? And why did the couple fly over with the gas company’s corporate jet? Is that appropriate?

Stiff in handling, loose with private use

It is not the first time that there has been criticism. Since Petri was appointed chef of  post in Abuja on September 5, 2017, the atmosphere has deteriorated. The new man is stiff, but loose with the private use of his official car, the staff finds. In addition, this visit to Bonny Island. And that while Shell – in part due to Petri’s previous bumbling with the company – is already playing enough. That shouldn’t get worse.

But that does happen. The dissatisfaction with the visit to Bonny Island results in two inspections by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the embassy in Nigeria, according to an investigation by NRC into the early departure of Robert H. Petri. According to various sources, the inspections focus on whether the ambassador was too fat with Shell.

Shortly after the summer of 2017, Robert Petri changes his post in Sanaa, Yemen, for a place in Nigeria. He and his wife move to the high-security residence in Abuja, a 15-minute drive from the embassy. His children also come over.

The relationship with the staff has been difficult since day one. Petri is old-fashioned and explicitly involves his wife in his work. He poses with her next to the gong of the Nigerian stock exchange – witness photos on Twitter. He has dolls of black maids put down to decorate the dining room. The staff takes offense there behind his back. They think it leans towards colonialism.

Nigeria is a difficult post, but the move is still a promotion for Petri. The West African country is many times larger than Yemen, and the economic interests for the Netherlands are great. This is mainly due to one major player: the British-Dutch oil company Shell.

Shell extracts a lot of oil and gas from Nigerian soil, and that is associated with pollution, sabotage, tax lawsuits, protests from the local population and suspected corruption.

When Petri takes office, three big things drag on. There is the cleaning, partly financed by the Netherlands, of a major oil spill at Bodo, near Bonny Island. Four widows of the Ogoni leaders executed in 1995 recently filed a lawsuit against Shell in The Hague. And the Dutch corruption investigation into Shell around OPL 245, a gigantic oil field off the Nigerian coast, is in full swing.

In short, Petri’s position is delicate. He must represent the interests of the Netherlands and Dutch companies, but also propagate Dutch values ​​such as socially responsible and environmentally conscious entrepreneurship.

Bert Ronhaar, who was ambassador to Abuja between 2010 and 2013, knows that this is a delicate balance. At the time, he deliberately interfered with the removal of a major oil spill in the Niger Delta, which he flew over in the first months of his appointment. “The scales really fell off my eyes then, all that oil on the water.” He spoke to NGOs, the government, the local population and Shell about the pollution. “The mutual mistrust was so great. Nobody wanted to get together. ”

Ronhaar saw it as his task to bring all parties together and to point out their own responsibility. “I don’t have my own agenda.”

An ambassador has to operate with extreme caution, says Ronhaar. “As a representative of the Dutch government you should be able to play an independent role in that power game.” That requires the right distance from powerful multinationals like Shell.

Criminal investigation

On Monday evening December 11, 2017, a small Dutch delegation will land at Abuja airport. They are people from the tax investigative service FIOD, who visit their Nigerian colleague service EFCC.

The trip is prepared in silence. The Dutch want information from the Nigerians that they can use for their criminal investigation into Shell. The Italian and Dutch investigation services have for years suspected that Shell and the Italian oil company Eni have deployed about $ 1 billion in kickbacks to obtain the development rights to the huge Nigerian oil field OPL 245. The EFCC has also been involved in the matter for a long time. Deployment of the FIOD: preparing a request for mutual legal assistance to transport this information to the Netherlands.

The embassy in Abuja helped prepare the most confidential visit. That is why the investigators, before they go to the EFCC, have an audience with Ambassador Petri.

He talks about life in Nigeria and at the embassy, ​​but forgets to say that in the days before he had a strong collision with the embassy about the arrival of FIOD. The reason: the visit that Petri paid to the highest boss of Shell in Nigeria.

Everything about it was unhappy. The timing: just before the FIOD visit. The location: the home of the Shell director. The fun: Marijke is there. But most of all: Petri’s lipstick. During the visit, he revealed the arrival of FIOD to Nigeria, he must admit after critical questions from the embassy staff.

It scares. This kind of information should remain confidential, especially for the company under investigation. It would not be the first time that a criminal investigation has been crossed in Nigeria through the leak of an imminent raid or information transfer.

This is not the case in this case: there is no evidence that Shell uses the unexpected inside information to his advantage. However, the incident does sharpen the relationship between Petri and his employees. The embassy staff, like the police liaison officer stationed in Abuja, is having trouble supervising the exchange of judicial information between the two countries.

Striking letter

Six thousand kilometers away, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Rijnstraat in The Hague, in the following months, people realize that things are not going well in Abuja. People outside the department also report. For example, in May 2018, Nigerian activist Godwin Ojo, of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, complains to a delegation from the Ministry and representatives of Milieudefensie and Amnesty International that Petri is “protecting Shell”. Foreign Affairs denies this, a report of the meeting said.

In July of that year another striking letter arrives at the Afrikadesk of Foreign Affairs. Sender: Priest Edward Obi, President of Nacgond, a dome of Nigerian NGOs to clean up the oil-contaminated Niger Delta. The Dutch embassy has been financing the umbrella programs for years, 1.5 million euros for five years.

In the letter, owned by NRC, the priest bleeds his heart over Petri. He did get Shell at the table among the previous ambassadors, he writes. But Petri refuses all cooperation. “The ambassador has been in Nigeria for a year and has not once contacted civil society organizations who play a critical role in preserving peace in areas where Shell operates,” Obi writes. “While he has already visited the Niger Delta a few times.”

Petri declines an explicit request from the priest to the ambassador to mediate between Shell and his organization. “We continue to wonder whether Ambassador Petri is in favor of the Dutch government, or has already sided with Shell,” Obi writes. Apart from a receipt, he hears nothing on the letter.

On the phone, Obi emphasizes that he aspires to have a good relationship with Shell and the embassy. “We really need an ambassador to get through to senior management at Shell. Visibility is very important to us. Then Shell is more approachable, and then the local population also knows that they are heard, and that they do not have to take the law into their own hands.”

Inspectors to Abuja

More and more people at the ministry now know about the problems in Abuja. However, it will take until the end of 2018 before the ministry takes formal action. The Security, Crisis Management and Integrity Directorate will then send two inspectors to Abuja to investigate potential integrity violations by Ambassador Petri. They hear those involved about the trip to Bonny Island and the revealed FIOD visit.

Few at the ministry know about the outcome of the integrity investigation into the ambassador.

But the sequel is an open secret to Foreign Affairs. Petri will fly back to The Hague for the annual ambassadors conference at the end of January 2019 and stay in the Netherlands for a few weeks. In the meantime, a second, more extensive investigation of the post in Abuja is starting, this time by the Inspection and Evaluation of Operations Management. This specially ordered inspection of the management problems results in a cleaning operation.

Inspector Maarten Brouwer is hard in his opinion, which is based on emails, documents and a large number of conversations. According to him, team awareness in Abuja has largely disappeared, due to poor management by Petri. It operated rigid and solo. Attempts, in his view, to address preferential positions led to major labor disputes.

The department intervenes with advice in hand. A new team must be set up in Abuja, work must be done to restore a safe working environment. A local employee who clashed with Petri is fired. Other parties involved rotate to embassies elsewhere.

Robert Petri, as the main person responsible for the derailed relationships, is no longer allowed to return to Nigeria. He will not be fired, but will be assigned to an office in the department. And on July 5, Foreign Affairs hastily appoints Harry van Dijk, African specialist and at that time first man in Benin, the neighboring country of Nigeria, as chief de poste in Abuja.

Polish proportions (Something wrong in translation?)

Van Dijk was commissioned to strengthen the bond between the Netherlands and Nigeria. The political relations and the representation of interests of the Dutch business community have both suffered from the problems at the embassy.

One of the problem files: the relationship between Shell and the Nigerian government. This is under pressure, partly as a result of a lawsuit that the Nigerians in London have filed against Shell and Eni. Nigeria is demanding money and Shell wants to take the license from the OPL 245 oil field.

Van Dijk smooths out the folds. On Tuesday morning, November 26, 2019, Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) will visit Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Palace in Abuja. In his wake, a number of CEOs of Dutch companies, including Ben van Beurden of Shell. While the group flies to Lagos in the afternoon for the follow-up program, Van Beurden stays behind in Abuja. That day he may eventually visit the president himself again.


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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs agrees that in 2018 ‘a report was received regarding the then ambassador’. As a result, an investigation of the facts was carried out. The spokesperson: “The investigation and its consequences are confidential.” Rob Petri will not respond.

Shell says of the FIOD visit: “this information was shared in a meeting with the ambassador”. According to the oil company, the information was “recorded internally, no further action was taken, and no official questions were asked about this matter.”

The OM: “The OM knows that a report has been made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When information about an ongoing investigation is shared in confidence, it is not allowed to share this information with third parties. This could harm criminal investigations. ”

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