- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NEW YORK | Royal Dutch Shell agreed to a $15.5 million settlement Monday to end a lawsuit claiming that the oil giant was complicit in the executions of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other civilians by Nigeria’s former military regime.

Shell, which continues to operate in Nigeria, said it agreed to settle the lawsuit in hopes of aiding the “process of reconciliation.” But Europe’s largest oil company acknowledged no wrongdoing in the 1995 hanging deaths of six people, including Mr. Wiwa, a poet.

“This gesture also acknowledges that, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place, the plaintiffs and others have suffered,” Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s executive director for exploration and production, said in a statement.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York asserted that Shell colluded with the country’s former military government to silence environmental and human rights activists in the country’s Ogoni region. Shell started operating in the oil-rich district in the southern part of Nigeria in 1958.

The primary complaint against Shell focused on activities by the company’s subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria Ltd.

The lawsuit said that in the 1990s, Shell officials helped furnish Nigerian police with weapons, participated in security sweeps of the area, and asked government troops to shoot villagers protesting the construction of a pipeline that later leaked oil.

The plaintiffs also said Shell helped the government capture and hang Mr. Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Saturday Doobee, Felix Nuate, Daniel Gbokoo and Dr. Barinem Kiobel on Nov. 10, 1995.

Mr. Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, led rallies against Shell. He blamed the company for myriad oil spills and gas fires in the Ogoni region.

Besides compensating the families, the money from Shell will pay for years of legal fees. About half of the settlement will create a trust that will invest in social programs in the country.

The settlement will have a negligible affect on Shell’s shareholders, amounting to less than one-hundredth of a percent of Shell’s annual revenue. It’s comparable to the annual cost of renting one of the supertankers that Shell uses to deliver Nigerian oil to other countries.

Ralph Steinhardt, a George Washington University professor of international law, said he doesn’t think Shell got off easy with the settlement.

“It’s not the size of the company that’s the right measure here,” Mr. Steinhardt said. “At the end of the day, it’s to get some acknowledgment of the plaintiffs and their suffering and the role of the company.”

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