Shell finance chief under pressure to quit this week

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The Independent Online

Shares in Shell Transport are expected to come under renewed pressure today as investors await publication of a board statement following critical internal reports on events leading up to the discovery in January that it had overstated its oil reserves by as much as a fifth.

Although the reports are understood not to point the finger at the group's finance director, Judy Boynton, the City will also be watching keenly to see if she intends to resign after a weekend of speculation regarding her position. The crisis at the company has already claimed the scalps of Sir Philip Watts, the chief executive, and Walter Van de Vijver, the head of exploration and production. That followed an inquiry by the audit committee of the board.

The board has reportedly been studying a report by Davis Polk & Wardwell, a US legal firm based in Lexington Avenue, New York. That report is the result of what is understood to be an extensive inquiry into internal management communications and decision-making at the very highest levels of Shell. E-mails and memoranda are said to have disclosed an atmosphere of tension and mistrust that may threaten the position of Jeroen Van der Veer, the chairman of the Dutch end of the group, and the vice chairman, Malcolm Brinded.

A separate report by Ryder Scott, a firm of energy consultants, has undertaken a detailed review of Shell's proven oil and gas reserves in an effort to dispel the breakdown in investors' confidence in the figures the group has been publishing.

A Shell spokesman said: "There's a lot of speculation about all this, but we have nothing to say." However, it was authoritatively said that the Shell board was yesterday discussing the wording of a statement on the current situation.

While Ms Boynton is not criticised in the reports, she became finance director in 2001 and is seen as a Watts appointment. She has therefore had to try to distance herself from the drama that eventually cost Sir Philip his job. As finance director, Ms Boynton would have been ultimately responsible for ensuring that the correct numbers were fed into the management accounts. However, what may be the opening shots in a mud-slinging battle were fired last week by Mr Van de Vijver, who claimed to have warned that some of Shell's reserves were "potentially non-compliant" with the rules of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Shell has to comply with these rules as its shares are traded in America.

The SEC and Britain's Financial Services Authority are inquiring into whether the company has kept investors correctly informed.

In an unprecedented move for such a major company, Shell has delayed its annual meeting until June in the hope that by then all relevant facts will be available for shareholders to consider.

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