State & Corporate Crime

DONOVAN vs. SHELL : A 30 Years Epic battle against a corporate giant.

How to describe John Donovan’s 30 years long battle against Royal Dutch Shell ? John Donovan’s personal Odyssey is on its way to become the longest war waged by a one-man army against the largest corporation in the world and all the referees agree: “John is winning”. His is a true 21st century David vs. Goliath story. A modern day Don Quixote charging the tall Royal Dutch Shell windmills of deviousness, corruption and hypocrisy. His claims have been proved correct over and over again. His work has been echoed by the international press, news TV channels and used by government regulatory agencies in USA, UK, Russia. John Donovan’s work has brought to our attention some of the worst examples of corporate corruption and proven corporate criminal activity of the last 30 years and for this he deserves our recognition.

Battle for a Website

Disgruntled employees, interested in learning about or airing the dirty laundry of the Shell Group, or journalists, who want to find out what’s up at one of the largest corporations in the world, know that you have to start your search by simply typing royaldutchshellplc.com on your browser [1]. It was back in 2004 when Shell’s highly paid lawyers realized what a spectacular blunder they had made when they had neglected to register what was the top-level domain name for the new company that had arisen from the parent Firms Royal Dutch Petroleum and Shell Transport & Trading merger. After the merger, the new company, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, would be headquartered in The Hague and have just one stock listing, in London, with an estimated market capitalization of more than $200 billion at the time [2].

To their consternation and horror two of their most enduring critics, father and son Alfred and John Donovan, had beaten them to the registration of the domain name, royaldutchshellplc.com. Shell E&P International waged a legal battle over the domain name and filed a lengthy complaint to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The WIPO ruled against Shell in 2005 and refused to order the transfer of the domain name to the Shell corporation. On 16 August 2005 The Times newspaper reported that the attempt by Royal Dutch Shell to claim the website royaldutchshellplc.com had failed. Following Shell’s defeat over the domain name ownership John Donovan’s website became essential for anyone who covers Shell and the energy sector broadly. The site gets millions of hits per month and John Donovan has been referred to by the European Journal as a modern hero and Shell’s Enemy No. 1 [3].

The Beginning of the Donovans Shell nightmare

This was not the first time that the Donovans had faced Shell legal threats and it wouldn’t be the last. The two Donovans, were well-known to Shell. By the time the WIPO assured the Donovans control over their domain name their already 10 years old battle against Shell had become personal. The Donovans Shell nightmare started in the early 90s. The Donovans owned several gas stations at the time and had partnered with Shell in several promotional initiatives. They embarked on a long-running campaign in search for justice after Shell management refused to acknowledge the Donovans contributions to a number of business promotion ideas that Shell used without their permission [45]. They waged several legal battles against Shell around disputes over the rights to Shell gasoline-station promotions and multiple copyright infringements, the best known of all the original ideas being Shell’s Smart Loyalty card. The idea of the Smart Loyalty card was proposed to Shell by a company that John Donovan co-founded, Don Marketing. John Donovan prevailed in each copyright infringement case settling out of court on each occasion [6].

During the Donovans copyright infringement legal battles of the 90s Shell engaged in veritable cloak and dagger operations against its perceived enemies [78], like Greenpeace and the Donovans themselves [9], through UK based firm Hakluyt, a global corporate espionage, lobbying and legal-dirt digging firm founded by former senior MI6 officers with the MI6 blessing and that currently employs a number of mostly British and American ex-intelligence officers and ex-government employees with high level military and government connections. The Donovans and some of their witnesses in the run-up to the 1996 Smart Card UK court case were the subject of undercover activity and apparently coordinated burglaries at the Donovans and their solicitor homes. Witnesses were interviewed by private undercover agents posing as a journalists. The same people also gained access to the Donovan’s evidence under false pretences. All the 90’s lawsuits ended up being settled out of court inevitably surrounded by secrecy and deception designed to prevent embarrassing information from reaching third parties, particularly Shell shareholders.

What followed the Donovan-Shell settlements of the 90’s [10] reveals the limitless hypocrisy and deviousness common among Shell’s higher management. In October 1996, John Donovan received an unsolicited letter of apology from Shell Chairman at the time, Dr. Chris Fay, for the way the Donovans had been treated by Shell [11].  The letter of apology was totally at odds with press releases issued by Shell before and after the Smart Card case agreement [12]. Following the settlements Shell’s management not only did not stop its campaign of harrasment against John Donovan but has continued until today distributing information to third parties with the intention of damaging his reputation. John Donovan served notice on Shell that this breach by Shell amounted to a repudiation of the previous copyright infringement and confidential settlement agreements [13]. The John Donovan libel action against Shell was withdrawn as part of a settlement of the SMART card litigation contained in a deed of compromise dated 5 July 1999 [141516].

Company Enemy No. 1

By the time the ownership of the domain name was finally settled royaldutchshellplc.com had become a focal point of bad news involving Royal Dutch Shell. John Donovan’s website has been reporting relentlessly and selflessly for nearly 30 years on many instances where Shell has been involved in questionable activities to say the least, some of those activities have led to criminal prosecutions.

Some well known examples are: the 2004 Shell Reserves Scandal and Securities Fraud [171819] that forced the resignation of Shell’s chairman, Shell’s complicity with the Nigerian government 1993-1995 criminal campaigns against the people from the Niger Delta oil producing region of Ogoni-Land and the 1995 execution of writer, activist and Nobel Prize Nominee Ken Saro-Wiva [2021] (A Hakluyt undercover agent also engaged in spying operations in Nigeria relating to Ken Saro-Wiwa on behalf of Shell), Shell’s involvement together with Exxon, Chevron and BP in climate change disinformation campaigns between 1980-2021 [22232425], Shell’s involvement in corporate espionage and obvious ties of the Shell Corporate Security branch to military intelligence agencies in the UK and USA [10], Shell’s North Sea crude oil market rigging reported by several oil traders that brought about several US Class Action lawsuits between 2014 and 2020 [2627] (the case reached the US supreme court on 2020 [28] that sided with the 2nd district court, which had dismissed the anti-trust and Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) violations), Shell’s violations of the Clean Air Act Law in several petrochemical plants [29] like the Pittsburgh Plant (Pennsylvania) [30] and the Norco Plant (Louisiana) [31] that is seriously affecting nearby residents, Shell’s monitoring of employees posting on Social Media [32], Shell’s historic connections to the Nazi war machine [33], etc…

In a remarkable case worthy of a Pulitzer prize Shell’s internal correspondence exposed by John Donovan involving Russia’s Sakhalin 2 Project leaders, warning of a potential environmental catastrophe due to lax safety standards, cost Shell its majority stake in the Sakhalin 2 project when it reached President Putin ears in Moscow in 2009 [3435]. Some of these Shell internal emails were leaked by concerned insiders others were obtained directly from Shell after making a Subject Access Request (SAR) under the UK Data Protection Act 1998. The Russian government confirmed the authenticity of the leaked emails. Oleg Mitvol, former Russian Deputy Environment Minister confirmed that John Donovan revelations proved beyond any doubt that paperwork had been manipulated by Shell and problems at the Project were kept secret [3]. As a consequence The Kremlin downgraded Shell to a minority partner in the joint venture, which cost Shell potentially billions in future lost revenues. This fact was also confirmed by Shell leaked emails [36].

More recently royaldutchshellplc.com has also reported the connections between the June 2014 UK-China Global Strategic Alliance Agreements [3738] signed between Shell and chinese National Oil Companies CNOOC and CNPC and the 1MDB scandal connected payment of huge bribes to the UAE royalty for the transfer of the 75 years old Shell oil concessions in the UAE to the same Chinese oil companies [3940].

John Donovan’s royaldutchshellplc.com has also the World’s largest online library of news articles, comments and leaked documents about the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell and related matters and they are all available free for educational and research purposes [41].

Never Ending Legal Threats and Government Surveillance

Although an expert panel from The World Intellectual Property Organisation had unanimously ruled on 2005 in favor of John Donovan domain ownership, relying on case law and fair use under the protection of a not-for-profit free speech gripe site, and even though Shell decided back on August 2005 not to appeal against WIPO’s verdict, a fact that was reported by Reuters and other news organisations, Shell Legal department has attempted in several occasions to take John Donovan website down through intelligence connected third party cyber-security firms or threatening directly and indirectly with legal action.

For instance, the threats issued to US based server hosting company BlueHost.com resulted in the royaldutchshellplc.com website being briefly deactivated on 25 June 2007. Although BlueHost.com initially was unwilling to disclose who had made the threats, reluctantly confirmed that it was Shell. The role of Shell was later confirmed in writing by then Shell legal counsel, Keith Ruddock [42]. 

Information obtained from Shell between 2009 and 2011 in response to UK SAR applications under the Data Protection Act by Alfred and John Donovan reveal internal Shell emails dating back to 2007, which were also examined by this author, that include high level management discussions about John Donovan website impact on Shell’s bottom line and about possible actions aimed at shutting down his website [43-45]. Those internal emails show that Shell used its own internal security staff to spy on John Donovan and on Shell staff visiting the royaldutchshellplc.com website [46-47]. In fact Shell set up an aggressive counter-measures team and it is known from insider sources that some of the members were from CAS -Shell Corporate Affairs Security (Shell Global Security), which is populated by former MI6, FBI and USA and UK ex- military intelligence officers [48]. Shell also denied in those internal emails any association between Shell and the Hakluyt Society in connection with Shell’s dealings with the Donovans even though titled Shell directors, the late Sir Peter Holmes, and Sir William Purves were also directors, major shareholders and at an early stage, the spymasters of Hakluyt & Co [49-50].

Shell internal emails also confirm that Shell Security contacted the american NCFTA (National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance) regarding John Donovan activities. NCFTA is a cyber intelligence agency located in Pittsburgh set up and partly funded by the FBI.  The email that has a really sinister tone includes a clear instruction: “There will be no attempt to do anything visible to Donovan” . Is this suggesting the possibility of inflicting invisible damage ? The readers can examine the email and make their own mind [51].

The Wikipedia reference to John Donovan’s work and website has also been under fire even though John Donovan website has been cited by public regulatory agencies and by hundreds of news sites including: the SEC, UK House of Commons Select Committee Hansard records, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg, Forbes, Dow Jones Newswires, New York Times, CNBC etc. [52]. Within minutes of publishing an original Wikipedia article on royaldutchshellplc.com John Donovan was contacted by a senior Wikipedia editor taking issue with the content. According to a Wikipedia insider the Wikipedia Editor in question taking issue with the content was a former Shell CEO.  An attempt is currently underway to merge the royadutchshellplc.com Wikipedia article with the Royal Dutch Shell Wikipedia article (where it could then be quickly edited out of existence.) 

More recently, On July 2021, Shell hired an Amsterdam based cybersecurity firm, Pointer Brand Protection & Research, to send John Donovan emails threatening legal action against one of his Shell focussed websites, royaldutchshell.website. In that 5-days email ultimatum examined by this author Shell alleges infringement of Shell trademarks/copyright but does not identify ANY specific alleged infringement [53].  Images used by John Donovan sites are within third-party photographs or from other third-party sources, sometimes published under licence. The legal threats also alleged “unfair competition towards Shell” even though the website is entirely non-commercial, with no subscription fees or any other charges and John Donovan has never sought or accepted donations.

In summary, Shell has acted covertly to try to combat or stop John Donovan perfectly legal citizen journalism activities, including by: secretly threatening server hosting firms for his websites, attempting to kill news articles about his activities, reporting his activities to government agencies in USA and UK, launching cyber-attacks against his website and spreading false information to damage his reputation. John Donovan has reported that Denial of service (DoS) attacks have happened from time to time and have been investigated by the UK police, who were unable to trace the perpetrators. When he complained to the Company Secretary of Royal Dutch Shell Plc the attacks would cease for a while.  As part of its intelligence operation against Donovan site, Shell has collaborated not only with the UK government but also with the US government and with US cyber security firms covertly funded and staffed by the FBI. 

John Donovan’s epic battle for control over his website is at the end of the day a battle for the freedom of expression of regular citizens. The extremes to which the Shell Legal department and Shell Corporate Security have gone attempting to shutdown John Donovan’s website are evidence of the hypocrisy rampant amongst Shell higher management. While regular Shell employees are subject to frequent and mandatory anti-corruption training courses their higher management has been engaged on a 25 years long battle against a man and his websites that lawfully report on Shell involvement on corruption, illegal surveillance, repression and pollution worldwide.

References

  1. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (News and Information on Royal Dutch Shell PLC)
  2. Shell wages a legal fight over a web domain name (WSJ, 2 July 2005)
  3. European Journal: Shell’s Enemy No 1 (Aug 22nd 2012)
  4. An Unscrupulous Shell Executive (John Donovan: Shell’s Nihtmare: Chapter 2, Nov 14th 2018)
  5. Shell did not just steal our ideas (John Donovan: Shell’s Nihtmare: Chapter 9, Oct 30th 2018)
  6. Shell faces libel action as Don’s founder issues writ (Marketing Week, April 25th 1995)
  7. Shell has confirmed that its senior management will hold talks with Don Marketing (Marketing Week, May 25th 1995)
  8. UK MI6 Firm spied on green groups (Corporate Watch, June 17th 2001)
  9. MI6 Firm spied on green groups (Sunday Times, June 17th 2001)
  10.  Shell Corporate Espionage In The Run-Up To The Smart Trial (John Donovan: Shell’s Nihtmare: Chapter 5, Nov 1st 2018)
  11. High Court papers unveil ‘secret’ Shell writ losses (April 23rd 1998)
  12. Shell hypocrisy (John Donovan: Shell’s Nihtmare: Chapter 4, Nov 13th 2018)
  13. Shell Smart Trial At The Royal Courts Of Justice (John Donovan: Shell’s Nihtmare: Chapter 6, Nov 1st 2018)
  14. Donovan bring new Shell-writ this time for libel (Marketing Week, April 30th 1998)
  15. Shell Action abandonded (Forecourt Trader, August 1999)
  16. Donovan vs Shell Litigation (John Donovan: Shell’s Nihtmare: Chapter 3, Nov 13th 2018)
  17. More Information than anywhere else on the planet about the Royal Dutch Shell reserves scandal (RoyaldutchShellplc.com May 21st 2021)
  18. Shell fined over reserves scandal (The Guardian, July 29th 2004)
  19. Shell Says Overstated Reserves Led to Exaggerated Profits (New York Times, July 3rd 2004)
  20. Shell crimes in Nigeria it would not dare commit in its home countries (royaldutchshellplc.com, March 4th 2019)
  21. Shell complicit in the arbitraty execution of Ogoni Nine as writ served in Dutch court (Amnesty International, June 29th 2017)
  22. Shell and Exxon’s secret 1980s climate change warnings (The Guardian Sept 19th 2018)
  23. A Court Ruled Shell Is Liable for Its Contributions to Climate Change. What Happens Now? (Rolling Stone, May 27th 2021)
  24. House Panel Expands Inquiry Into Climate Disinformation by Oil Giants (The New York Times, Sept 16th 2021)
  25. Democrats call on oil companies to testify on climate disinformation (RoyalDutchShellplc.com, Sept 17th 2021)
  26. Nymex traders allege big firms manipulated Brent oil prices (Reuters, Nov 6th 2013)
  27. US Class action lawsuit against Shell and others for oil price fixing (Royaldutchshellplc.com, April 29th 2015)
  28. Atlantic Trading USA, LLC, et al, Petitioners v. BP plc, et al, Respondents (US Supreme court, April 27th 2020)
  29. Growing alarm over Shell’s Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex (Royaldutchshellplc.com, Sept 29th 2021)
  30. Shell hit with violations for chemical odor in Beaver county (Beaver County Times, Sept 27th 2021)
  31. Shell plant at Norco stirred controversy decades before Clean Air Act allegations (The New Orleans Advocate, Feb 19th 2018)
  32. Shell has confirmed monitoring of employee postings on social media (RoyalDutchShellPlc.com, April 19th 2018)
  33. Shell’s toxic nazi history catching up with the energy giant (Royaldutchshellplc.com, Sept 8th 2019)
  34. 92-Year-old’s website leaves oil giant Shell-shocked (The Guardian, Sept 25th 2009)
  35. John Donovan Russian intervention cost billions – No denial by Shell (Dec 30th 2009)
  36. “Subject: Donovans” (Shell Internal Email July 15th 2009)
  37. CNPC and Shell strengthen global cooperation (Oil & Gas Journal, April 10th 2014)
  38. Shell signs global strategic alliance with CNOOC (Reuters, June 17th 2014)
  39. Shell involved in more megacorruption scandals (Royaldutchshellplc, July 29th 2019)
  40. The Carlyle Mubadala Alliance: A new blueprint for oil and gas bribery (KickBack.news Dec 8th 2020)
  41. Shell Online Library: Free Research Access on Royal Dutch Shell Plc .com to over 37,000 articles, comments and documents (RoyalDutchShellPLC.com)
  42. For decades Shell has tried to suppress online criticism (RoyalDutchShellPLC.com, Aug 3rd 2021)
  43. Shell critic says oil major targeting his website (Reuters, Dec 2nd 2009)
  44. Shell’s corporate espionage in more recent years (John Donovan’s Shell Nightmare Chapter 12, Oct 29th 2018)
  45. £250,000 to close down anti-Shell website (royaldutchshellplc.com, May 10th 2011)
  46. Information obtained from Shell in December 2009, March 2010 and April 2011 in response to SAR applications under the Data Protection Act by Alfred and John Donovan (ShellNews.Net)
  47. Donovan Confidential (Shell Internal Email – March 21st 2007)
  48. Legally Privileged and Confidential XXX Donovan Follow-up (Shell Internal Email – March 9th 2007)
  49. Hakluyt & Co. spying missionsfor Shell (RoyalDutchShellplc.com Jan 17th 2017)
  50. A lifetime of climbing to the top (The Sunday Morning Herald, March 28th 2002)
  51. Re: Donovan Blogs (Shell Internal Email – June 17th 2009)
  52. RoyalDutchShellPLC.com in the Media (royaldutchshellplc.com Sept 19th 2016)
  53. John Donovan’s personal email exchange with the author (Aug 5th 2021)

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