Nigeria: Bodo Vs Shell – Over 14,000 Beneficiaries Accuse British Lawyer Of Sneaky Business In £55m Oil Spill Compensation Claim
The Bodo Community in Rivers State has accused its UK solicitor and senior partner, Leigh Day & Co, Mr Martyn Day of embezzling more than 14,000 beneficiaries of the £55million compensation paid by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in 2015.
The community, in more than a dozen correspondence between its representatives and the solicitor, copies of which were obtained by THISDAY, noted that up to £30m paid to the solicitor for an additional payout to residents affected remain untraceable.
Furthermore, the Ogoni oil-producing community noted that all efforts to ensure that Leigh Day made documents available, including the bank instruction as well as receipts used to make payments, had hit a brick wall. .
In 2012, members of the Bodo community sued Shell in the High Court in London, seeking compensation for two oil spills and loss to their health, livelihoods and land. In addition, they called for the cleanup of oil pollution.
The more than 14,000 plaintiffs argued that the affected pipelines caused the spills because they were over 50 years old and poorly maintained, adding that Shell reacted too slowly after being alerted to the situation.
But in January 2015 Shell accepted liability and agreed to a £55m settlement, after which the funds were channeled through its UK solicitor, Leigh Day, who a community representative said Mr. Timothy Sapira, was withholding at least £30. million of total money.
Efforts to get the barrister to explain the circumstances surrounding the £55million payout, the community said, had since 2015 proved fruitless, with the barrister refusing to answer any of their requests until recently.
In one of the official communications from the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, signed by the Chairman, Chief John Vilola and Vice Chairman, Chief Bernard Kiate, among others, community leaders expressed their frustration with at the turn of events.
Ogoni leaders pointed out that as individual claimants and as the Bodo Council of Chiefs, the group that was recognized as a party to the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), they were concerned about the incomplete and incorrect payment settlement monies arising from the claim.
“Rather than address the substantive issue of the allegations against your company, you sought to hide behind false legal arguments.
“We understand that you have been properly and fully compensated for the services you have provided to the Bodo community in this matter. Therefore, these are documents that any impartial person would accept as our clients.
“These documents will help us establish that you made the settlement money payments ‘reasonably and in good faith’ in accordance with the MSA’s requirements.
“… We are therefore writing to you under the same authority now to provide us with the above information through our legal representatives, Samuel & Co. Solicitors in the same United Kingdom.
“If Leigh Day & Co. has nothing to hide, it would promptly provide the above information without any fuss or further delay. Likewise, refusing to do so would further reinforce our suspicion that Leigh Day & Co. may not have -failed to act reasonably and in good faith in the payment of settlement monies to individuals/the Bodo community,” they noted.
Community leaders have threatened that failure to provide the information will leave them with no choice but to seek redress from any regulatory body that can help them with the matter.
This, they hoped, “would prevent the firm from acting with such impunity and complete disregard for legal standards/practices in its dealings with its most disadvantaged clients”.
In other correspondence, the community listed the documents requested from the UK law firm as follows: a copy of the account statement, an MSA requirement which was provided by the firm to SPDC for the distribution of the £55 million sterling and a copy of the company’s nominated bank accounts forwarded to SPDC/escrow agent for payment of £55m, or £35m and £20m separately.
They further requested copies of credit advices from escrow agent SPDC’s bank for a total payment of £55 million to the nominated bank accounts, instructions confirming payment as well as debit advices from the bank confirming full payment.
Among other things, Bodo also required copies of debit instructions to their bank for the total sum refunded to SPDC for unpaid claimants, copies of debit advice, proof of full payment (both interim and final ) performed by SPDC to the company as legal cost, list of paid claimants as well as unpaid claimants.
“Our customers want these issues resolved quickly. As soon as they are sure they have received their full rights in the Bodo oil spill case. They want closure and want to get on with their lives. .
“They believe that since Leigh Day has been fully compensated for the work undertaken in this case, they are entitled to the documents requested under UK laws and regulations.
“Therefore, if LD is unable to produce or share any of the documents requested above, they must clearly state in each case of refusal the reasons for not wanting or not being able to do so”, another letter written by new community advocates, Samuel & Co Solicitors, noted.
In a separate communication, a community representative, Sapira informed the lawyer of Bodo’s intention to take him to UK authorities because he had resorted to “spurious legal maneuvers rather than addressing concerns”. Day had said there was a discrepancy between the 15,576 original recipients and the 14,134 in one of the letters.
“You will be leaving individual claimants and the Bodo community no choice but to pursue this matter and, as previously stated, we will be filing a complaint not only with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) and other legal institutions of the same UK, but also any other corporate bodies available elsewhere in the world at some point over the next two weeks,” he said.
Sapira told THISDAY that after the funds were virtually “killed”, none of the recipients received anything substantial.
But when THISDAY contacted the London law firm, they replied that the case was already before the courts, adding that they could not comment, a statement disputed by the community representative.
A response to the inquiry signed by the firm’s media relations officer, Caroline Ivison, said Leigh Day was unwilling to defend herself in court.
“Your email below was forwarded to me (Ivison). While the matter is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment. But we are able to say that a full defense to all allegations has been served.
“The defense is on the court record which I think you can ask the court for if you wish,” the firm said.
But the lawyer’s position was challenged by the community representative, who insisted that at no time had Bodo taken Day to court.
“We are not in court. We have not yet taken Leigh Day to court. Leigh Day & Co. is just playing games to delay accountability for its services to plaintiffs in the Bodo community,” a said Sapira.