British Solicitor and Senior Partner, Leigh Day & Co., Mr. Martyn Day, has insisted that he fully acted according to the instructions given by Bodo community, Rivers state, in the disbursement of a £55 million compensation sum paid by Shell as out-of-court settlement in a 2012 oil spill case.
The London-based lawyer who was responding to allegations that he short-changed the community to the tune of about £30 million, maintained that the accusation was false.
In a note yesterday, the firm claimed that having read the allegations, the accusations by the community representative contained factual inaccuracies.
The Leigh Day spokesperson, Caroline Ivinson, said: “We confirm that we distributed both the damages for the individual and community claims in accordance with instructions that were properly given to us. The allegations contained in the article that monies were improperly deducted from the settlement sums are entirely false.”
“We are in correspondence with a firm of Nigerian solicitors relating to the claims made by Mr. Sapira, which we refute. We are fully defending a case that has been brought against us by other persons who also allege that they act on behalf of the Bodo community,” the firm stated.
Although Sapira maintained that the matter had nothing to do with the Ogoni clean-up, but simply about transparency in the disbursement of the compensation sum, the London law firm noted that it continues to enjoy the backing of the community leadership on the matter.
“We continue to be, and always have been, properly instructed by the representatives of the Bodo community with respect to the ongoing international clean-up process.
“We have been told that this is still the case and that all the current governmental bodies of the Bodo community have held that they do not support any of these criticisms against us and that we have their continued trust and confidence with regard to the ongoing clean-up case,” the solicitor stated.
Representatives of over 14,000 Bodo community residents in several communications with the law firm had alleged that their monies remained unaccounted for.
Furthermore, the oil-producing Ogoni community noted that all efforts to ensure that Leigh Day made available the documents, including the bank instruction as well as receipts used in making the payments had met a brick wall.
In 2012, Bodo filed a lawsuit against Shell in a London High Court, seeking compensation for two oil spills and losses suffered to their health, livelihoods, and land.
The plaintiffs maintained that the relevant pipelines caused spills because they were over 50 years old and poorly maintained, and that Shell reacted too slowly after being alerted to the situation.
But in January 2015, Shell accepted its responsibility and agreed to a £55 million settlement after which the funds were routed through Bodo’s British Lawyer, Day. Shell also agreed to the clean-up of the impacted area.
In one of the official communication from the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, signed by the Chairman, Chief John Vilola and Vice President, Chief Bernard Kiate, among others, the community leaders had expressed frustration over the turn of events.
The Ogoni leaders had pointed out that as individual claimants and as Bodo Council of Chiefs, the group that was recognised as party to the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), it was concerned about the incomplete and inaccurate payment of the settlement sums arising from the claim.
Bodo had threatened to take the matter further by lodging a complaint with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) and other legal institutions in the UK if the lawyer will not submit the requested documents explaining how the monies were disbursed.
But in its initial reply, the London law firm had responded that the case was already in court and so it could not make any comments, although Mr. Timothy Sapira, a community representative and head, Vilola, told THISDAY that Bodo had no such case in court.