By Wale Akinola
Four Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have written to the Minister of Justice of The Netherlands to warn against out-of-court settlement in the case instituted by The Netherlands government against Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDS) and Shell Petroleum over the acquisition of the OPC 245 oil and gas field in Nigeria.
Global Witness, Human and Environmental Developmental Agenda, Re:Common and The Corner House wrote the letter against the backdrop of the recent out-of-court settlement of a major Dutch money laundering case involving ING Bank N.V.
Saying they considered themselves as stakeholders in the case having submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office in The Netherlands requesting criminal investigation of RDS, Shell and Shell executives for offences under Dutch law relating to the deal, the NGOs said they were concerned that the option of out-of-court settlement may also be explored in the matter.
“We held that this (out-of-court settlement) would not be in the public interest unless stringent conditions are attached”, the letter, dated January 9, 2019 and signed by Nicholas Hildyard for The Corner House, Luca Manes for Re: Common, Olanrewaju Suraju for HEDA and Simon Taylor for Global Witness, said.
The groups explained that whereas, in principle, they were not opposed to out-of-court settlements in cases where the defendant is ineligible for a custodian sentence, any settlement that does not produce a remedy proportionate to the alleged crime could not be seen as just.
They listed three grounds to justify their opposition to out-of-court settlement for RDS, Shell and Shell executives on the OPL 245 oil and gas field case as follows: The defendants had vigorously denied any criminality, any settlement would establish a precedent that the Dutch system is prepared to tolerate corporate recidivism and any settlement without a full and clear statement of facts and admission of guilt would be contrary to the interests of open justice.
The groups stressed that if, notwithstanding their concerns, The Netherlands authorities deemed a settlement to be in the public interest, it would be unacceptable to allow the companies to continue to profit from the alleged corruption in the OPL 245 deal.
According to them, should the Dutch Prosecutor have sufficient evidence, they would expect those prosecutions to go to trial, even if a settlement option were available.