No proof of Shell Group involvement in witness bribery

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Den Haag, 23 maart 2022

The Hague District Court has passed a final judgment today in a case brought against Shell Group companies. The claimants are the widows of four of the nine men, the Ogoni 9, who were sentenced to death in Nigeria in 1995.  The widows were allowed to submit proof for their allegation that (link invoegen: Weduwen moeten omkoping getuigen door SPDC bewijzen ( the SPDC, a Nigerian operating company of the Shell Group, was involved in witness bribery. The claimants alleged that the statements of the bribed witnesses had played a role in the sentencing and/or arrest and detention of their husbands. The court has concluded that they have failed to produce the requisite evidence.

Background: protests against oil extraction and sentencing of the Ogoni 9

The claimants belong to the indigenous Ogoni people, who live in Ogoniland, an oil-rich area in Nigeria. Up until early 1993 a joint venture, of which the SPDC also formed part, had extracted oil in that area. Ogoni organisations protested the way this was done, to which the Nigerian authorities responded with a crackdown. Supporters of the more radical Ogoni organisations were held responsible for the protests. In November 1995, a special tribunal sentenced nine men – the Ogoni 9 – to death for their involvement in the murder of Ogoni leaders. The claimants’ husbands belonged to this group of men, who were hanged after their conviction.

SPDC not involved in bribing witnesses

The claimants hold the SPDC and the other Shell companies summoned co-responsible for violations of fundamental rights which, according to them, caused the death of their husbands. One of the accusations is that the SPDC was involved in bribing witnesses, who made incriminating statements in the cases against the claimants’ husbands. The court allowed the claimants to submit proof for this accusation, for which they produced witness examinations and documents. The court has assessed the proof and has concluded there is no proof of the SPDC’s involvement in witness bribery.

The witnesses testified about having to write and sign prepared incriminating statements and about training sessions where the witnesses were prepared for making incriminating statements, all this in exchange for payments and the promise of jobs. At the time the witnesses were told that the money they received came from ‘Shell’. The witnesses also made statements about the presence of persons, who they referred to as ‘Shell staff’. However, the court holds that the witness statements are based to a great extent on assumptions and interpretations of the witnesses. Furthermore, the statements are insufficiently concrete for the conclusion that the money referred to by the witnesses had indeed come from the SPDC. In addition, the statements yielded no concrete proof that SPDC representatives attended the training sessions mentioned by the witnesses. 

Applications denied

In a previous interlocutory judgment, the court had ruled that the claimants’ other accusations did not stand up to scrutiny. In this final judgment, the court has now also found the claimants’ last accusation unsubstantiated, denying their applications. 

Watch the video of the verdict here (in Dutch)
(Previous interlocutory judgment: ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2019:4233)