Financial Times: Deposed Shell executive breaks his silence
By Adrian Michaels in New York and Carola Hoyos in London
Published: April 14 2004
The deposed head of exploration at Royal Dutch/Shell on Tuesday broke his silence over the accounting controversy at the oil company, attacking what he said were inaccurate portrayals of his role and saying that the group's managing directors knew of the problems with oil reserves.
The forthright comments by Walter van de Vijver, his first since quitting the company in March, come at a critical time for Shell as it prepares to make public an internal audit committee report on a reserves debacle that has plunged it into crisis.
The report, which has begun to be distributed to board members, is said to lay much of the blame for the crisis on Sir Philip Watts, former chairman, and Mr van de Vijver.
Both quit two months after Shell admitted that 3.9bn barrels of its proved oil and gas reserves had been wrongly booked with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
But Mr van de Vijver made clear on Tuesday he was not happy with the impression that he was responsible. He lays responsibility at the feet of the Committee of Managing Directors, which he says was informed "without delay" of reserve bookings that needed to be re-evaluated.
His comments will fuel sentiments, voiced privately by some members of the non-executive boards of the group, that Shell's internal report will be a whitewash, seeking to pin blame on two men no longer at the company.
Mr van de Vijver's statement says: "While, out of respect for the company and because of the ongoing regulatory investigations and other legal proceedings, I have decided not to make a detailed statement at this time, key aspects of my efforts . . . should be clarified for the record."
The former chief executive of exploration and production goes on to say that he took "a close look at the company's reserves classification procedures and some of its previously booked reserves.
"I found that the company's procedures were in need of improvement and that some prior bookings needed to be re-evaluated for [SEC] compliance purposes.
"I communicated my findings to the Committee of Managing Directors without delay."
Shell declined to comment on the statement, which was issued by Mr van de Vijver's lawyers in the US late on Tuesday.
Mr van de Vijver says he was asked to resign "without credible explanation". He says he "regularly communicated" reserves problems to the managing directors and "recommended appropriate public disclosure". He adds that he "persisted in calling for full and prompt disclosure to the company's joint boards of directors and to the public".
Shell, Sir Philip and Mr van de Vijver are being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US's chief financial regulator. Mr Van de Vijver says he is co-operating with the SEC.