SwissInfor.Org: Ex-Shell head to face Nigeria case questions
By Kevin Drawbaugh
March 26, 2004 5:30 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. law firm plans to put questions to former Royal Dutch/Shell Chairman Phil Watts next month in a lawsuit alleging human rights violations in Nigeria, lawyers say.
Watts was ousted three weeks ago as chairman of the world's third-largest oil company over a reserves accounting scandal.
Before becoming chairman, he ran a Shell development company in Nigeria's southern delta in the early 1990s when the Anglo-Dutch company clashed with the local Ogoni people.
"We're deposing Mr. Watts on the 16th and 17th of April in London," Stephen Whinston, an attorney at the Philadelphia-based firm of Berger & Montague, told Reuters on Thursday.
The firm in 2002 filed a class action lawsuit seeking unspecified monetary damages on behalf of about 50,000 Ogonis "subjected to various types of human rights violations at the hands of the Nigerian government," Whinston said.
The lawsuit alleges that Shell "engaged in militarized commerce in a conspiracy with the former military government of Nigeria," according to a statement from Berger & Montague, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York.
The action accused Shell of "purchasing ammunition and using its helicopters and boats and providing logistical support for ... a military foray into Ogoniland designed to terrorize the civilian population into ending peaceful protests against Shell's environmentally unsound oil
Simon Buerk, a Shell spokesman in London, said, "The allegations are without foundation and we are confident that the court will find that to be the case."
An attorney for Watts in Washington could not be reached for comment. Watts has not been named as a defendant in the case, which has been brought solely against the company.
In the Niger Delta, annual oil output is estimated to be worth about $20 billion, but many people live without access to clean drinking water, basic health care or schools.
Other oil majors active in the region include ChevronTexaco, Exxon Mobil, both of the United States, and France's Total.