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One of our sources: Joe McGinniss, the famed ‘journalist provocateur’

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 00.31.13Extract from a Joe McGinniss email to a PR officer for one of the organizations supporting the plaintiffs in the Wiwa v Shell case, in which Joe (right) criticised the $15.5 million settlement: 

But I can’t help sensing that after finally reaching the point where you were about to show the world the evidence of Shell’s maleficence and perfidy you turned back from the brink, took a token payment, and let them off the hook. There may have been many sound reasons for doing so. Obviously, on balance, you collectively agreed that settlement was preferable to the trial you’d sought for thirteen years. But it was like you had the stake in your hand, and then instead of driving it into their foul and noxious heart you set it down, took their chump change, and walked away, leaving them able to scurry off spouting claims of having been “humanitarian.”

By John Donovan

Joe McGinniss, the famed “journalist provocateur” as described in a New York Times obituary published days after his death, was a fan of this website, a friend and a source of insider information.

Extract from NYT Obituary

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 08.34.23…in 2010, Mr. McGinniss caused a ruckus when he moved next door to Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential candidate, and her family in Wasilla, Alaska, where she was once the mayor. Mr. McGinniss said he needed to be nearby to do research for a book about her. The book, “The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin,” published in 2011, made sensational allegations…

Joe had made his name decades earlier as a result of his bestseller book about the Presidential campaign of Richard Nixon: “The Selling of the President 1968.”

It was because of Joe that we were able to announce the pending settlement of the Wiwa v Shell case in June 2009 before anyone else, including mainstream media. I mentioned in the article that I was receiving insider information on the case. It came from Joe who was not a fan of Shell.

I have reprinted below one of the many emails we received from Joe at that time.

Alfred & John–

Steve Kretzman, p.r. man for one of the organizations supporting the plaintiffs in Wiwa, has written a reply to my piece in The Daily Beast.

I don’t know whether they will publish it, but I thought you’d find it of interest and thought you also might be interested in a letter I wrote to Kretzman this morning, at the conclusion of which I pasted some of John’s words of wisdom from June 8th.

Ireland sounds interesting. Maybe I should visit the ould sod and take a first-hand look.


Sitting with Shell’s unsettling settlement

After thirteen years and countless hours by lawyers, community members, and activists around the world, Royal Dutch Shell finally settled the Wiwa v Shell case in a New York court for $15.5 million.

Shell says they settled the case as a “humanitarian gesture” to the Ogoni. Does anyone really believe that after fighting for more than a decade to keep this out of court, Shell suddenly woke up and felt great compassion for the Ogoni? Please.

Writing in the Daily Beast, Joe McGinniss asks “how much is a dead Nigerian worth to Shell”? It’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask, especially when you consider that Royal Dutch Shell is a corporation that made more than $30 billion in profits last year alone.

Its also more than a bit unfair. Not to Shell – who cares about them? But to the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other executed Ogoni men, McGinniss’ article is completely insensitive to the reality of trying to find closure on a painful episode in their lives.

As Ken Wiwa Jr. wrote eloquently in the Guardian, “the case [was] freighted with all kinds of agendas that it [could not] possibly satisfy”. Has the settlement brought relief to Ken Wiwa jr and the families of the other men who were executed? The answer from them is an unequivocal yes. That alone should be cause for celebration, and they alone get to be the judges of what is adequate for that.

Is $15.5 million is enough to compensate for the hanging of nine men, the death of thousands more, and for the destruction of an ecosystem? No of course not. One wonders what amount of money would ever be enough for that.

But was $15.5 million on par with what a jury would have awarded in this case? Yes, lawyers tell me, for sure.

The reality is Shell settled because they were scared, and they knew the evidence against them was overwhelming. They publicly say they had nothing to do with the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni, and yet there were documents and video that they fought hard to keep out of the public eye.

Evidence that was to be introduced in the case included an internal Shell memo where the head of Shell Nigeria offered to intervene on Saro-Wiwa’s behalf, if only Saro-Wiwa and others would stop claiming that Shell had made payments to the military.

Then there was this memo, requesting payment to the Nigerian military for an incident in which at least one Ogoni man died.

Witness were set to testify that they saw Shell vehicles transporting Nigerian soldiers, that they saw Shell employees conferring with the military, that they saw money being exchanged between Shell employees and military officers, and that they heard military officers, including Major Okuntimo of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, make admissions regarding the work they were doing on behalf of Shell.

We have known of Shell’s involvement in this tragedy for a long time. In early May of 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa Sr. faxed me a memo authored by Major Okuntimo which read “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence” and further called for “pressure on oil companies for prompt regular inputs”.

I received that fax and immediately called Ken, who was in London at the time. He said “this is it. They’re going to kill us all. All for Shell.” It was the last time I talked with him. He returned to Nigeria (an incredibly brave thing to do), and was shortly arrested on the trumped up charges for which he was ultimately hanged.

Ken Sr.’s famous last words from the gallows were “lord take my soul but the struggle continues”. In this moment, perhaps more than ever before, we need to heed that call to action. The settlement in this case brings satisfaction to the plaintiffs for an event that happened 14 years ago. It in no way, shape or form excuses or absolves Shell of their ongoing destruction of the Niger Delta environment

One of the central complaints of Niger Delta communities for forty years is gas flaring, which sends plumes of toxic pollutants into the air and water of the Niger Delta. Gas flaring endangers human health, harms local ecosystems, emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases, wastes vast quantities of natural gas, and is against Nigerian law. Shell does it nowhere else in the world in volumes that are even remotely comparable to what they flare in the Delta.

But Shell is still flaring gas with reckless abandon in Nigeria.

While there is no doubt that the settlement represented a significant victory for the plaintiffs’ in this one human rights case against Shell, true justice will not be served as long as the people of Nigeria continue to suffer the terrible impact of Shell’s operations. Shell estimates it would cost about $3 billion – only 10% of just their last year’s profits – to end Shell’s gas flaring in Nigeria once and for all.

But instead of putting their great “humanitarian concern” into action, Shell points the finger at the Nigerian government and demands that they pay to end this practice.

Send a message to Shell’s CEO Jeroen van der Veer, and let him know that if he really wants to prove his great concern for the Ogoni people, he’ll end gas flaring once and for all.

The struggle continues.

Steve Kretzmann is Executive Director of Oil Change International. He has worked on policy and movement building surrounding energy issues and the global oil industry for the last nineteen years. He served as the environmental advisor to Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People in Nigeria. In April 2009, he testified in the US Congress on the impacts of the oil industry in Nigeria.

I know you will have seen what’s below from

I don’t agree for a moment that plaintiffs’ lawyers “had their own greed-driven agenda,” but I am left wondering about other factors, such as a) simple exhaustion after thirteen years, b) the actual strength of the claims as they would have been argued before a jury (which is different from the underlying legal soundness of the case, which is what got it this far), c) the possible effect of last year’s Chevron verdict in California on the decision of whether or not to go to trial, and d) whether, as I have read in Nigerian newspapers, Ken Jr.’s position in the Nigerian government would have undercut his testimony and the strength of your arguments in his behalf.

An oil company executive in Alaska whom I have known for many years just wrote to me that “The size of that settlement says they were just trying to buy off what they considered a nuisance suit. But why in hell, if the plaintiffs believe in their case, are they supposedly happy with it?”

A fair question?

What I haven’t yet been able to understand is how–after all that moral fervor sustained for all those years, and all the rhetoric about Shell’s merciless criminal conduct in Ogoni and elsewhere in the Niger Delta for decades, and in particular the allegations of complicity in extrajudicial executions–you could agree to a settlement in which there is absolutely no admission of wrongdoing. To me, that seems to make claims of victory ring hollow. And it does allow those inclined to believe it to go on saying that from the start the plaintiffs were only in it for what they might be able to extract from Shell’s deep pockets and that there were no larger human rights principles involved, only the invocation of same for strategic purposes.

I don’t believe that. I’m aware that there are inevitably tugs and pulls in different directions in litigation involving multiple plaintiffs over many years.

But I can’t help sensing that after finally reaching the point where you were about to show the world the evidence of Shell’s maleficence and perfidy you turned back from the brink, took a token payment, and let them off the hook.

There may have been many sound reasons for doing so. Obviously, on balance, you collectively agreed that settlement was preferable to the trial you’d sought for thirteen years. But it was like you had the stake in your hand, and then instead of driving it into their foul and noxious heart you set it down, took their chump change, and walked away, leaving them able to scurry off spouting claims of having been “humanitarian.”

Would Ken Saro-Wiwa really have been pleased to see Shell able to escape the consequences of their complicity in his death without
admitting to so much as a misdemeanor? I ask that not confrontationally, but in the hope that as I move forward with research for a book about the impact of the ATCA on human rights litigation in the U.S. and on the history of this case, in particular, I might be able to reach a better understanding.


Shell’s blood money settles the Wiwa case

Jun 8th, 2009 by John Donovan.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 08.56.51

By John Donovan

As forecast on June 3 in my article “Shell settlement in the Wiwa v. Shell U.S. trial imminent?“, Shell has indeed chosen “to solve the problem with hard cash rather then allowing the dirtiest of dirty laundry to be aired in court”. $15.5 million to be precise.

My analysis and forecast was based partly on inside information and partly on our own unique experience in dealing with Shell lawyers and Shell senior management, including Malcolm Brinded, in an unparalleled series of seven court actions, all of which Shell chose to settle.

My article led to feverish speculation by Ogoni activists in the USA, of a sell out. I have Ogoni internal emails confirming this fact.

The plaintiffs contended that Shell colluded with the Nigerian Military Government in the 1995 execution of 9 Ogoni activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa (above), after being convicted on trumped up charges…Greed seems to have overcome the stated objectives of exposing Shell’s evil misdeeds in open court. The plaintiffs would have been under pressure by their lawyers, who had their own greed driven agenda. That would have made it easier to take Shell’s blood money.

Contrary to the words attributed to his soon-to-be wealthy son, I doubt Ken Saro-Wiwa would be at all happy with Shell being allowed to escape justice with the usual formula of no admittance of wrongdoing. From all that I have heard about him, I think he would be utterly disgusted with the outcome.

I know how the PR side is arranged in advance with press statements being issued containing false information to fool the media, the public, and Shell stake-holders into believing that Shell was an innocent benevolent bystander. In our last action against Shell, the true terms of settlement were kept secret even from the Judge, Mr Justice Laddie. $15.5 million is a pittance compared with the billions of dollars in hydrocarbons Shell has extracted from the Niger Delta over decades, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Another win for the devil.

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