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Shell Oil pays $19.5m to avoid facing criminal proceedings
by Meredith Griffiths via talya - ABC (Oz) Tuesday, Jun 9 2009, 5:53am
international / environment / other press

Oil company Shell has agreed to pay $19.5 million to avoid standing trial over accusations that it was complicit in human rights abuses in Nigeria in the 1990s. The families of nine people executed in 1995 accused Shell of collaborating with the country's military regime to silence the activists for protesting against the oil company's environmental practices in the Niger Delta.

Royal Dutch Shell
Royal Dutch Shell

In 1990, the prominent Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists formed the activist group, aimed at exposing what they said was the environmental damage Shell was causing in the Niger Delta.

They were also protesting against alleged abuses against the Ogoni people who lived in the area.

Shell has always strenuously denied the allegations and says it agreed to settle the lawsuit in the hopes of aiding the process of reconciliation in Nigeria.

Crammed in detention

In 1995, after four years of protests, Nigeria's military regime rounded up many of the activists and detained them for months.

Ledum Mittee remembers being held in the storeroom of a military camp, crammed in with so many others that they only had space to squat.

"We knew they were targeting us because of our campaigns and they would want to subject us to some form of torture to intimidate us, but fortunately the system was fairer than it actually proved to be," he said.

The charges against Mr Mittee were finally dropped but nine other activists, including Saro-Wiwa, were hanged, accused of ordering the murder of four local leaders.

Mr Mittee says the news was devastating.

"It was clear to all of us and to everybody that we were being targeted because of our position to Shell," he said.

Dirty dealings?

The families of the executed activists claimed that Shell colluded with the Nigerian authorities to punish them.

The oil company was also accused of paying soldiers who carried out human rights abuses.

After 13 years of legal wrangling the case had been due to go to trial in New York next week.

But in a last minute deal, Shell agreed to pay $19.5 million in an out-of-court settlement.

Shell says the payout is not an admission of guilt and continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Part of the money will go to the activists families and to pay legal costs. Some will also be used to set up a trust to benefit the Ogoni tribe.

One of the plaintiff's lawyers, Judith Chomsky, has acknowledged $19.5 million is not a massive sum of money for such a huge oil company.

"It is a drop in the ocean of Shell's wealth," she said.

"But I do believe that the accumulation of claims against them that are successful, that are presented to the public, will weigh on them in terms of requiring them to think about what they are doing and how it will be perceived."


Ken Saro-Wiwa's son says the plaintiffs feel victorious because they believe they have achieved a precedent that a multinational corporation can be sued for human rights violations in a US court.

Human rights lawyers say that means international businesses will become more accountable for their environmental and social actions.

Shell says that it tried to plead with the Nigerian regime to grant clemency to the prisoners in the 1990s but that the appeal went unheard.

The oil company says it agreed to the settlement today to promote reconciliation in Nigeria and to acknowledge that people had suffered.

Mr Mittee now leads the group formed by Ken Saro-Wiwa.

He says he still hopes the regions resources will be developed by an oil company to help the Ogoni people prosper.

"Certainly there can no longer business as usual, but that is not necessarily the end of business," he said.

"Business will now know they have to operate according to some ethical standards where they must also respect rights and lives of people.

"Once that happens, there is no reason why business cannot survive in this environment and even have people as credible partners."

2009 ABC


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Oil and Indigenous People Don't Mix
by Greg Palast via rialator - Friday, Jun 12 2009, 10:37pm

There's an easy way to find oil. Go to some remote and gorgeous natural sanctuary, say Alaska or the Amazon, find some Indians, then drill down under them.

If the indigenous folk complain, well, just shoo-them away. Shoo-ing methods include: bulldozers, bullets, crooked politicians and fake land sales.

But be aware. Lately the Natives are shoo-ing back. Last week, indigenous Peruvians seized an oil pumping station, grabbed the nine policemen guarding it and, say reports, executed them. This followed the government's murder of more than a dozen rainforest residents who had protested the seizure of their property for oil drilling.

Again and again I see it in my line of work of investigating fraud. Here are a few pit-stops on the oily trail of tears:

In the 1980s, Charles Koch was found to have pilfered about $3 worth of crude from Stanlee Ann Mattingly's oil tank in Oklahoma. Here's the weird part. Koch was (and remains) the 14th richest man on the planet, worth about $14 billion. Stanlee Ann was a dirt-poor Osage Indian.

Stanlee Ann wasn't Koch's only victim. According to secret tape recordings of a former top executive of his company, Koch Industries, the billionaire demanded that oil tanker drivers secretly siphon a few bucks worth of oil from every tank attached to a stripper well on the Osage Reservation
where Koch had a contract to retrieve crude.

Koch, according to the tape, would, "giggle" with joy over the records of the theft. Koch's own younger brother Bill ratted him out, complaining that, in effect, brothers Charles and David cheated him out of his fair share of the looting which totaled over three-quarters of a billion dollars from the Native lands.

The FBI filmed the siphoning with hidden cameras, but criminal charges were quashed after quiet objections from Republican senators.

Then there are the Chugach Natives of Alaska. The Port of Valdez, Alaska, is arguably one of the most valuable pieces of real estate on Earth, the only earthquake-safe ice-free port in Alaska that could load oil from the giant North Slope field. In 1969, Exxon and British Petroleum companies took the land from the Chugach and paid them one dollar. I kid you not.

Wally Hickel, the former Governor of Alaska, dismissed my suggestion that the Chugach deserved a bit more respect (and cash) for their property. "Land ownership comes in two ways, Mr. Palast." explained the governor and pipeline magnate, "Purchase or conquest. The fact that your granddaddy chased a caribou across the land doesn't make it yours." The Chugach had lived there for 3,000 years.

No oil company would dream of digging on the Bush family properties in Midland, Texas, without paying a royalty. Or drilling near Malibu without the latest in environmental protections. But when Natives are on top of Exxon's or BP's glory hole, suddenly, the great defenders of private property rights turn quite Bolshevik: lands can be seized for The Public's Need for Oil.

Some Natives are "re-located" through legal flim-flam, some at gunpoint. The less lucky are left to wallow, literally, in the gunk left by the drilling process.

Take a look at this photo here, taken in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. It's from an investigation that I conducted for BBC TV, now in the film "Palast Investigates." I'm holding up a stinking, black glop of crude oil residue pulled from an abandoned Chevron-Texaco waste pit. A pipe runs from the toxic pit right into the water supply of Cofan Indians.

Chief Emergildo Criollo told me how oil company executives helicoptered into his remote village and, speaking in Spanish - which the Cofan didn't understand - "purchased" drilling rights with trinkets and cheese. The Natives had never seen cheese. ("The cheese smelled funny, so we threw it in the jungle.")

After drilling began, Criollo's son went swimming in his usual watering hole, came up vomiting blood, and died.

I asked Chevron about the wave of poisonings and deaths. According to an independent report, 1,401 deaths, mostly of children, mostly from cancers, can be traced to Chevron's toxic dumping.

Chevron's lawyer told me, "And it's the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States? ... They have to prove that it is our crude," which, he noted with glee, "is absolutely impossible."

Big Oil treats indigenous blood like a cheap gasoline additive. That's why the Peruvians are up in arms. The Cofan of Ecuador, more sophisticated, and less violent, than their brothers in Peru, have taken no hostages. Rather, they have heavily armed themselves with lawyers.

But Chevron and its Big Oil brethren remain dismissive of the law. This week, Shell Oil, to get rid of a nasty PR problem paid $15 million to the Ogoni people and the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa for the oil giant's alleged role in the killing of Wiwa and his associates, activists who had defended these Niger Delta people against drilling contamination. Shell pocketed $31 billion last year in profits and hopes the payoff will clear the way for a drilling partnership with Nigeria's government.

Congratulations, Shell. $15 million: For a license to kill and drill, that's quite a bargain.

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