Current chief executive Ben Van Beurden has also been caught up in the investigation. He was not in position when the deal was complete, but after Shell’s Hague offices were raided in February last year, Dutch authorities wire-tapped a call between Van Beurden and then chief financial officer Simon Henry in which Van Beurden allegedly urged Henry not to disclose the raid to shareholders.
Wiretap: After Shell’s headquarters in the Hague were raided in February last year, ceo Ben Van Beurden urged chief financial officer Simon Henry not to disclose the raid to shareholders
Shell was last night accused of taking part in ‘one of the worst corruption scandals the industry has ever seen’ after buying an oil field in Nigeria.
The Anglo-Dutch giant joined forces with Italian rival Eni to acquire the site off the coast of the West African country for £1billion – giving it access to 9bn barrels of oil, worth nearly half a trillion dollars at today’s prices. But leaked documents suggest it knew much of this cash would fall into the hands of a convicted money launderer and be used to bribe government officials.
There is also evidence claiming that when police raided Shell’s headquarters, its chief executive told another member of his senior team: ‘Don’t volunteer any information that is not requested.’
Simon Taylor, of anti-corruption organisation Global Witness, said: ‘This is one of the worst corruption scandals the oil industry has ever seen.’
Shell was desperate to get its hands on the oil field, known as OPL 245, because it is one of the most valuable oil blocks in Africa.
But taking control of the site involved negotiating with former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete, a money launderer whose company Malabu bought the rights to OPL 245 in 1998.
Although Shell paid the money to the Nigerian government when it bought the field in 2011, it was forced to negotiate with Etete in order to secure the deal.
Much of the cash was then filtered through to Etete, who it is alleged used most of it to make payments to government officials before splashing out on armoured vehicles, a private jet and shotguns.
Leaked emails reveal the extent to which Shell staff knew what Etete would do with the money. After speaking to Etete’s wife, one employee said to another: ‘She says E claims he will only get 40m of the 300m we offering – rest goes in paying people off.’
A separate note, which was forwarded to former Shell chief executive Peter Voser, said: ‘Etete can smell the money. If at nearly 70 years old he does turn his nose up at nearly $1.2billion he is completely certifiable and we should then probably just hold out until nature takes its course.’
There are questions about why Shell was negotiating with a convicted money launderer, just after it had paid £24.2million to settle allegations of bribery in Nigeria.
It was also suspected the new deal could involve money being passed to the former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan.
Italian prosecutors, who will begin hearings later this month on whether Shell, Eni and Etete will face trial for international bribery, said the president probably received as much as £161million to approve the sale of the oil field. He has denied this is the case.
One email to Shell’s exploration chief said: ‘The president is motivated to see 245 close quickly – driven by expectations about the proceeds that Malabu will receive and political contributions that will flow as a consequence.’
Current chief executive Ben Van Beurden has also been caught up in the investigation.
He was not in position when the deal was complete, but after Shell’s Hague offices were raided in February last year, Dutch authorities wire-tapped a call between Van Beurden and then chief financial officer Simon Henry in which Van Beurden allegedly urged Henry not to disclose the raid to shareholders.
A Shell spokesman said: ‘If the evidence ultimately proves that improper payments were made by Malabu or others to then current government officials, in exchange for improper conduct relating to the 2011 settlement of the long-standing legal disputes, it is Shell’s position that none of those payments were made with its knowledge, authorisation or on its behalf.’
Eni denied any wrongdoing.