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Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Shell Admits Guilt, agrees to pay $15.5 million to Families of Saro-Wiwa and Ogoni Eight

Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1993

From Nduka Nwosu in Lagos and Constance Ikokwu in Washington, D.C. with agency reports, 06.09.2009

The oil giant Shell has agreed to pay $15.5m (N2.3bn) in settlement of a legal action in which it was accused of having collaborated in the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders in Rivers State.Saro-Wiwa and his eight other compatriots were executed by the late General Sani Abacha military junta in 1995. THISDAY checks along with agency reports revealed that this settlement is one of the largest payouts agreed by a multinational corporation charged with human rights violations.

Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary – Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) – have not conceded to or admitted any of the allegations, pleading not guilty to all the civil charges. But the scale of the payment is being seen by experts in human rights law as a step towards making international businesses accountable for their environmental and social actions.
In the past, it has been difficult to bring and sustain legal actions against powerful corporations. The settlement follows three weeks of intensive negotiation between the plaintiffs, who largely consisted of relatives of the executed Ogoni nine, and Shell. "We spent a lot of time trying to put together something that would be acceptable to both sides, and our people are very pleased with the result," said Anthony DiCaprio, the lead lawyer for the Ogoni side working with the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights.

The deal marks the end of a 14-year personal journey for Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, son of the executed leader. Among the plaintiffs was Karalolo Kogbara who lost an arm after she was shot by Nigerian troops when she protested against the bulldozing of her village in 1993 to make way for a Shell oil pipeline. Though the settlement cannot compensate for individual losses of loved ones or livelihoods, the plaintiffs will now be able to pay all legal fees and costs.

A sum of $5m will be used to set up a trust called Kiisi - meaning "progress" in the Ogoni Gokana language - to support educational, community and other initiatives in the Niger Delta region.Shell has consistently denied any involvement in the decision of the Nigerian regime to execute the Ogoni nine. It argues it tried to plead with the government to grant clemency to the prisoners but to its great sadness the appeal went unheard. Supporters of the legal action said the fact that Shell had walked away from the trial suggested the company had been anxious about the evidence that would have been presented to the jury had it gone ahead. Stephen Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, said Shell "knew the case was overwhelming against them, so they bought their way out of a trial".

Among the documents that were lodged with the New York court was a 1994 letter from Shell in which it agreed to pay a unit of the Nigerian army for services rendered. The unit had retrieved one of the company's fire trucks from the village of Korokoro - an action that according to reports at the time left one Ogoni man dead and two wounded. Shell wrote that it was making the payment "as a show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition in future assignments".
Shell's involvement in the oil-rich Niger Delta extends back to 1958. It remains the largest oil business in the country, owning some 90 oil fields.

The Ogoni people began non-violent agitation against Shell from the early 1990s, under the leadership of Saro-Wiwa and his organisation Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has long complained that the oil giant was responsible for devastating the ecosystem of the Delta upon which Ogoni farmers and fishermen depend, through a combination of oil spills, forest clearance for pipelines and the burning of gas from oil-wells known as gas flares. Human rights experts believe the settlement will have a substantial impact on other multinational corporations. DiCaprio predicted it would "encourage companies to seriously consider the social and environmental impact their operations may have on a community or face the possibility of a suit".

Meanwhile, former United States congressman, William J. Jefferson, will defend himself today as the Alexandria Federal Court hears his case which involves fraud and graft allegations including a $100,000 bribe he claimed was meant for former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. Jefferson, who lost his legislative seat last year due to his tainted image, received the $100,000 marked notes from one Lori Mody, a Virginia businesswoman and government informant. He promised the money would be used to bribe Atiku in order to lock up a business deal.

He was busted when $90,000 of the money was found by federal investigators in a wrapped aluminium foil in his freezer during a raid on his Capitol Hill apartment. Jurors are expected to determine whether he was the ring leader in a scheme to bribe the former vice-president. Jefferson says he has an “honest explanation” for the money found in his apartment. But his business associates - Vernon L. Jackson, owner of Kentucky Technology Firm iGate, and Brett Pfeffer - a former congressional aide, pleaded guilty in 2006 to bribery. Both men are serving time in prison.

The former congressman is facing 16 criminal counts in a case that has uncovered his business deals across seven West African countries. He faces charges of racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering. He is accused of using his privileged office to make illicit gains from companies seeking business in Africa. As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Nigeria and African trade, the disgraced former congressman allegedly received kickbacks for facilitating businesses while failing to make an honest disclosure of his deals. In the 94-page indictment sheet, federal authorities say Jefferson's bribery schemes included telecommunications deals in Nigeria and Ghana, oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea and waste-recycling systems in Nigeria.The indictment revealed that he promoted international businesses using his official congressional letter head paper while at the same time hiding his personal interests in those deals.

Investigations trace his business meetings to Potomac, Maryland, McLean, New York, London and cities across Africa.
His lawyers claim he acted outside his congressional capacity as a businessman. But the jury will decide if he was making personal benefits for himself and his family through his office as congressman. The investigations into Jefferson's dealings came to a head in 2005 when federal agents searched his home, gathering documents, e-mails, faxes, and conversations with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant, Mody, who wore a recording device.

The case caused a row between the Justice Department and Congressional leaders who charged that documents in Jefferson's office were legislative materials and should not have been searched. Jefferson sued the Justice Department. An appeals court ruled that it could review the documents to determine those connected with legislative work.

1 comment:

Kofi Duku said...

Why did it take soo long for Shell to admit guilt and pay up? Has the rest of the corporations doing business in Africa learnt any lesson from this? I doubt. I hope they will not import their greedy and corrupt activities to Ghana. Ghana should watch out.

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