Royal Dutch Shell Group .com

Mail on Sunday: Shell finance chief faces axe


Patrick Tooher,

18 April 2004


SHELL finance chief Judy Boynton is on the verge of quitting after a damning report into the oil giant's reserves crisis.


The findings of an internal investigation by the Anglo-Dutch company's audit committee are believed to have made Boynton's position untenable. Chairman Jeroen van der Veer is also under threat, as is Malcolm Brinded, Shell's vice-chairman.


The report could be published as early as tomorrow and is set to spark another major boardroom shake-up.  


Boynton is believed to have hired US lawyer Samuel Winer to negotiate her departure and a possible 1m pay-off.


The twin boards of Shell met on Friday to discuss their response to the inquiry. They also considered a separate report by external energy consultant Ryder Scott reviewing Shell's proven oil and gas reserves amid fears of further downgrades to estimates.


At issue is how much Boynton, van der Veer and Brinded knew of the problems before they became public this year.


The company shocked investors in January when it revealed that its oil and natural gas reserves had been overstated by a fifth. As Financial Mail revealed, the biggest problem area is Nigeria, a major profit centre for Shell.


Last month, previous chairman Sir Philip Watts and exploration and production chief Walter van de Vijver were ousted in a boardroom coup after a preliminary inquiry by the audit committee.


Boynton, who joined Shell as finance director in 2001, and van der Veer were spared. But it has since emerged that both certified the company's 2002 filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the US stock market regulator, which contained the inaccurate reserves figures.


Van de Vijver broke his silence last week by refusing to be the sacrificial lamb for the overbooking of reserves.


The Dutchman insisted that since 2001 he had repeatedly warned the company's ruling committee of managing directors about reserves that were 'potentially non-compliant' with the SEC rules. But his own credibility was called into question on Friday when the New York Times reported that he had ordered a colleague to destroy an analysis of Shell's gas and reserve problems because the findings were ' dynamite' and incomplete.


The company is the subject of numerous other investigations around the world after admitting it had exaggerated reserves.


The SEC has launched an inquiry after it emerged that Shell executives were warned two years ago that its accounting of reserves was inconsistent with the regulator's rules. In the UK, the Financial Services Authority is probing whether shareholders should have been told earlier of the overstatement.


Shell has delayed its annual meeting by two months until the end of June. Last month, it suffered another humiliating blow when it was forced to wipe a further 500 million barrels from its proven reserves - on top of the 3.9bn in January.

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