Shell warns of US probe into corruption claims

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The Independent Online

Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas giant was yesterday forced to warn shareholders about an ongoing investigation by US authorities over allegations that bribes were paid to Nigerian customs officials on behalf of the company.

The investigation, being conducted jointly by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the US Department of Justice, concerns potential violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The group, which yesterday unveiled its 2009 strategy plan, said it was conducting its own inquiry into the allegations and is also co-operating with the US investigation.

The probe was first revealed by Shell in its 2007 annual filing to the SEC, which revealed a Department of Justice query about Shell's use of the freight forwarding firm Panalpina, and potential violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Shell has since warned it could be fined or face additional costs.

A spokesperson for the company said yesterday that despite being under|investigation for a year, Shell had no indication of when the probe might close, or how much the group|expected to be asked to pay in fines, if anything.

In 2007, Shell was one of 11 oil groups asked by the SEC to detail its relationship with Panalpina, a Swiss shipping and logistics company, which the US authorities were investigating in relation to suspected irregular payments, contrary to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

In March last year, Panalpina said that its own internal investigations had revealed payments to Nigerian customs officials that required further scrutiny. A spokesman for Panalpina said that the company has now withdrawn from Nigeria, following its investigation. The spokesman could not confirm the nature of the work carried out by Panalpina for Shell, but said that the group was active in providing a host of services, such as domestic transport and parts distribution, to most oil companies operating in the Niger Delta.

He said that Panalpina's investigation had revealed "sensitive" matters, but did not say if they concerned Shell, or any other company.

Shell was adamant yesterday that there were no new developments in the case and that it has already made public all the necessary details relating to the inquiry. However, the company continues to be dogged by the allegations, which have yet to be resolved.

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