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Shell investigated by SEC over bribery claims

March 17, 2009

Shell is under investigation by authorities in the US for potential breaches of overseas bribery rules.

The Anglo-Dutch oil giant revealed today that it is being probed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Department of Justice for alleged violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The probe relates to alleged payments made on its behalf to customs in Nigeria.

Shell said it is co-operating with the US authorities and also conducting its own internal investigation.

The revelation came as Shell confirmed a 5 per cent dividend increase and pledged to invest $32 billion in a string of oil and gas projects.

In a statement, ahead of its annual briefing to investors, the group also said it was planning cost cuts.

Jeroen van der Veer, the Anglo-Dutch group’s chief executive, said the recession had “created opportunities for Shell to reduce supply-chain costs.”

Analysts say that staff cuts are likely.

Plunging oil prices have led to a mounting sense of crisis in the industry, which has reacted by axeing projects and shedding thousands of employees.

The problems resulted in BP last month reporting its first quarterly loss in more than seven years.

The falling oil price has also fuelled concerns about the ability of oil companies to pay increased dividends while meeting their investment needs.

But Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, pledged to pay $10 billion in dividends this year — a 5 per cent increase in the first quarter of this year compared with a year ago.

It would also invest $31-$32 billion in major projects around the world, it said.

The group expects annual production growth of between 2 and 3 per cent in the next decade

Its oil reserves remain unchanged from a year ago, making this the first year the group has not pumped more oil than it has added to its reserves since 2004.

Mr van der Veer said: “These are testing times in the oil and gas industry. While short-term measures are important, we keep our long-term perspective and continue to believe that energy needs over the long term provide a positive context for Shell’s investment programmes today.”

The group was planning “on the basis that the downturn could last more than a year,” he said.

Shell’s crude output has been under pressure because about 20 per cent of its oil production is from Opec member countries, where quotas have been slashed by about 14 per cent.

Shell’s net reserves were 11.9 billion barrels of oil or equivalents at year-end — enough to last about ten years if it stopped developing projects.

In January, Shell reported full-year 2008 earnings of $26.3 billion, down from $31.3 billion in 2007.

Shares in Shell were down this morning 2.44 per cent, or 40p, to £16.

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