Shell Australia chairman Ann Pickard once claimed to the US government that the oil giant had staff posted throughout Nigerian government ministries, ensuring they could keeping tabs on regulation in the oil-rich nation, a cable released by WikiLeaks says today.

According to the cable, Pickard, the former executive vice president for Sub Sahara Africa and top executive for Shell in Nigeria, told the US ambassador that the company had staff embedded in the Nigerian government as a way of keeping an eye on the political status of oil regulation and the moves of rival companies from China and Russia.

The cable, dated 20 November 2009, details a conversation between Pickard and US ambassador to Nigeria Robin Sanders. The ambassador noted: “She [Pickard] said the GON [Nigerian government] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.”

shellwiki

In other discussions detailed in the cable, Pickard told the ambassador that she had received letters from within the Nigerian government showing Chinese oil companies were making offers for oil blocks.

The cable says she also gave her advice on the likelihood of a coup, the political status of the Petroleum Industry Bill (which is yet to be passed by Nigerian parliament and to she said “we need to move quickly” to obtain any necessary changes before it becomes law) and the number of oil barrels being produced per day.

Another cable says Pickard expressed concerns about the Nigerian government removing some of Shell’s gas concessions and handing them to Russian energy company GAZPROM. She alleged that conversations with Nigerian ministers were being sent to the Russian government. GAZPROM have since delayed their investment until after the 2011 Nigerian elections.

In a foreboding twist, Pickard also repeatedly told US officials that she did not like to comment on affairs in Nigeria because the US government was “leaky”.

A spokesperson for Shell Australia declined to comment on the cables.

Levi Ajuonoma, a spokesman for the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, denied the claims to The Guardian today:

“Shell does not control the government of Nigeria and has never controlled the government of Nigeria. This cable is the mere interpretation of one individual. It is absolutely untrue, an absolute falsehood and utterly misleading. It is an attempt to demean the government and we will not stand for that. I don’t think anybody will lose sleep over it.”

Pickard, an American citizen, was based in Lagos Nigeria for five years before taking up the role at Shell Australia in March this year. In that role she oversaw the company’s exploration & production, gas and LNG activities in the region.

According to the Shell website, Pickard has been described by Fortune magazine as “the bravest woman in oil and one of the 50 most powerful women in business”. Shell is listed on the London Stock Exchange, which was closed at the release of the cables.

Peter Fray

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