Reuters.co.uk: Ex-Shell Exec: Ousted Without Explanation
By Kevin Drawbaugh
14 April 04
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former top executive at energy group Royal Dutch/Shell (RD.AS: Quote, Profile, Research) (SHEL.L: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Tuesday he was ousted from his job "without credible explanation" and is cooperating with investigations of Shell reserve accounts.
"On March 3, 2004, without credible explanation, I was asked to resign my executive and board positions within the company," said Walter van de Vijver, former exploration and production chief, in a statement distributed by a law firm.
Van de Vijver said he has "provided my full cooperation and support to the (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) and internal investigations" of sharp reserve reductions at Shell.
Responding to what he called "misleading" portrayals of his role in the Shell reserves affair, van de Vijver said he found problems in the classifying of reserves on Shell's books when he was named exploration and production (E&P) head.
He said he told Shell's managing directors committee about his findings. "I introduced improved controls, guidelines, and technical rigor in the E&P unit," he said.
Further, he said, "As the magnitude of the non-compliant reserves classifications became apparent in late 2003, I led the charge to communicate the issues fully within the company. I persisted in calling for full and prompt disclosure to the company's joint boards of directors and to the public."
The SEC in February launched a formal probe of the world's third-largest oil group, which slashed its proved reserves by 20 percent in January, then in March again cut its oil and gas reserve accounts -- a key item for energy companies.
Shell's audit committee has hired the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell to conduct an internal investigation. A source close to the case said a draft report has been submitted.
It blames reserves overbooking mostly on former chairman Phil Watts and van de Vijver, according to press reports.
Shell spokesman Andy Corrigan said the company had no comment on the reserves issue until completion of the internal review "projected to be within the next several weeks."
He said that when the internal probe report was finalized, its main conclusions would be made public.
Anglo-Dutch Shell is under investigation by the SEC, the U.S. Justice Department, Britain's Financial Services Authority and the Netherlands' markets regulator, AFM. The company is listed on stock exchanges in all three countries.
A lawyer for van de Vijver at the firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment. Akin Gump distributed van de Vijver's statement.
Upon ousting Watts and van de Vijver last month, Shell named former chemicals head Jeroen van der Veer as chairman and gas and power chief Malcolm Brinded as E&P chief.
At least a dozen class-action lawsuits have been filed against Shell by U.S. shareholders over the affair.
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