The evidence that Shell tried to bury

(morningstaronline.co.uk) The Morning Star can reveal today the evidence that Shell tried to hide with last week's $15.5 million out-of-court settlement over its activities in Nigeria.

The oil giant paid the money to Nigerian campaigners to halt a New York trial over allegations that it was complicit in the state murder of nine activists including Ken Saro-Wiwa and the torture of many more during the Ogoni people's 1990s campaign against exploitation of their land.

Shell was apparently hoping to prevent damaging evidence entering the public domain.

But the Star has obtained damning documents which appear to directly implicate Shell in payment to the Nigerian military for services rendered and attempts to bribe Ogoni campaigners and reveal how far Sani Abacha's regime was willing to go to protect Shell's interests in the Niger Delta.

The documents include internal Shell memos sanctioning payments to the regime and recommendations by senior Nigerian officers for bloody reprisals against campaigners.

They lift the lid on the murky world of corruption, intimidation and violence which campaigners argue Shell willingly entered into.

One memo, dated August 1995, refers to a meeting between a senior Shell executive and Mr Saro-Wiwa's brother Owens Wiwa.

The executive writes: 'I offered Owens Wiwa the possibility that we would be prepared to put in some humanitarian aid in exchange for the undertaking by his brother to soften their official stance ... you will recall the response was a frosty one (martyrdom rather than concessions).'

Another document suggests an 'honorarium for armed forces personnel' after a 26-strong military strike force mounted an operation to recover a Shell vehicle.

The memo states: 'The operation resulted in a bloody clash' and recommends 'that the entire team be paid some form of honorarium as a show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition' toward Shell.

The leader of that force was Major Paul Okuntimo - who, in another document, tells his superiors: 'Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.' Under 'recommendations,' he proposes 'wasting operations' against Ogoni activists and 'wasting targets' such as 'vocal individuals.'

Commenting on the documents, Ben Amunwa of campaign group Remember Saro-Wiwa said: 'Essentially Shell has spent the last 14 years vehemently denying the charge that it was in collusion with the Nigerian military.

'These documents show us the intimate relations Shell had with the military.'

'They were paying the military in the knowledge of how they were committing human rights abuses, often on behalf of Shell themselves.'

Mr Amunwa added: 'The report of the meeting between Owens and Shell shows just how cynical they are.

'We know Shell were involved in the process which lead to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other eight Ogoni activists.

'Many of the witnesses who testified against Ken have since signed affidavits saying they were paid by Shell.'

Mr Amunwa said that Major Okuntimo 'has been recognised as psychologically unstable and a trained killer. He once bragged to journalists that he knew many ways of killing Ogonis.

'Many people have testified that he boasted on numerous occasions that Shell was paying him and he got his orders from Shell and had killed many people for them. In this context, the term 'wasting' can be seen as unprovoked murder.'