Dem. Rep. of Congo: Global Witness report claims Soco uses secret payments, violence, intimidation & threats to stay in Virunga National Park; Soco denies allegations

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Article
6 September 2014

Battle for Virunga: The fight to save Africa's oldest national park

Author: The Telegraph (UK)

Virunga National Park has become the battleground in a new conflict, as conservationsists fight off the advances of rebel militias, poachers and a powerful oil company...For several years de Merode has fiercely opposed Soco’s search for oil in the park. He says drilling would be a ‘potential disaster not just for Virunga and its fragile ecosystem, but for the rule of law, the region’s stability and all of Congo’s national parks’. Soco denies any responsibility for the attack, but its powerful Congolese supporters cannot be excluded from the list of suspects. Soco’s opponents claim that those supporters have used intimidation, detention, bribery, violence and even murder to advance their, and by extension the company’s, interests...After the attack, other Soco opponents received anonymous text messages warning that they would suffer the same fate as de Merode. Moreover, Soco’s supporters include elements of the Congolese army...Soco...denies all the allegations...In a report this week, Global Witness called for a criminal investigation, saying, ‘Soco and its contractors have made illicit payments, appear to have paid off armed rebels and benefited from fear and violence.’ WWF has accused state security forces of creating ‘an atmosphere of fear and intimidation at Soco community meetings’. A coalition of local NGOs has condemned ‘the intimidations, arbitrary arrest and torture of local community members opposing oil developments in Virunga’. It accused...the Congolese army of...‘silenc[ing] anyone who has questions about the true impact of the oil project, in particular human rights and environmental defenders’.

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Article
4 September 2014

[PDF] Drillers in the mist: How secret payments and a climate of violence helped Soco International open Africa's oldest National Park to oil

Author: Global Witness (UK)

Soco and its contractors have made illicit payments, appear to have paid off armed rebels and benefited from fear and violence fostered by government security forces in eastern Congo, as they sought access to Africa’s oldest national park for oil exploration. Material gathered as part of an undercover investigation by UK film-makers and reviewed by Global Witness, lays bare the extent of the acts carried out by Soco...and its supporters to further its oil project in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park...Only some of the undercover footage was included in a new documentary called “Virunga”. Soco has said in a public statement that it “does not condone, partake in or tolerate corrupt or illegal activity whatsoever.”...The footage shows a Soco ally trying to bribe a senior park ranger to spy on the head of Virunga, local Soco agents handing out envelopes of cash to villagers to hold a demonstration, and a top Congolese parks official telling rangers they “will be paid money, money, money” if they collaborate with the company. Soco officials, meanwhile, labelled the head of the park, Emmanuel de Merode, as their major obstacle in secret recordings, and denigrated the park. [Also refers to Total].

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Article
4 September 2014

‘Drillers in the mist’: How secret payments and a climate of violence helped UK firm open African national park to oil

Author: Global Witness (UK)

...Soco International and its contractors have made illicit payments, appear to have paid off armed rebels and benefited from fear and violence fostered by government security forces in eastern Congo, as they sought access to Africa’s oldest national park for oil exploration. The shocking behaviour [of Soco]...is laid bare in a new report released today by Global Witness. Our findings are based on undercover recordings gathered in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of an investigation by UK film-makers, which have been reviewed by Global Witness. The material was collected in the course of research for the feature-length documentary Virunga...Among the most startling evidence in the recordings are: a Congolese intelligence officer closely allied to Soco offering a park ranger thousands of dollars to spy on the chief warden of Virunga National Park...a senior Soco official and one of the company’s contractors appearing to admit that Soco paid rebels; and a local MP admitting to having received monthly payments from Soco for lobbying in favour of the company. Activists and park rangers who criticised Soco’s operations have been arrested, and in some cases beaten or stabbed, by soldiers and intelligence agents supporting Soco's entry to the region...“Soco is threatening Africa’s oldest national park through an oil project marred by bribery, intimidation and violence,” said Nat Dyer of Global Witness. “Pension funds and other investors must demand that Soco quits Virunga for good and that it accounts for its actions.” Soco denies the allegations in our report, saying that it “does not condone, partake in or tolerate corrupt or illegal activity whatsoever” and that bribes to park rangers “have never been nor will ever be sanctioned by Soco”. The company also said that it is committed to the protection of human rights and that it would investigate if there was evidence of wrongdoing.

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Article
14 August 2014

Oil-lobby antics cast more doubt on Soco’s promise to protect African park

Author: Global Witness (UK)

When an oil company promises to suspend hugely controversial work in Africa’s oldest national park it should be cause for celebration. But the commitment by British oil company Soco to withdraw from Virunga National Park...was rife with ambiguity. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So no huge surprise when a leaked letter from Soco assured Congo’s prime minister that reports of a withdrawal were overstated—or to hear the firm’s deputy chief talk of nudging Unesco into redrawing Virunga’s borders. “In light of news announced this morning by various radio channels of our disengagement from oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park, we would like to draw to your attention that this information is inaccurate,” Soco’s country chief in the Democratic Republic of Congo, José Sangwa, wrote to Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo on 11 June...The World Heritage Committee’s official resolutions at Doha called on Congo “to cancel all the oil exploitation permits granted” in Virunga, as “oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status...Failure to broker a compromise means Soco’s supporters could switch to Plan B: shifting the park’s borders...The company recently completed seismic surveys and it now needs up to a year to analyse the data. “Soco will process and analyse the data and by mid-2015 will be able to determine if there are areas for drilling, so that the DRC government can take the necessary measures to follow up the exploration or not,” Soco executive Sangwa wrote.

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Item
4 June 2014

[PDF] Soco full response to Global Witness

Author: Soco International

"For publication - This letter and accompanying annex is to be published in full with your report and on your website", 4 June 2014

We write with regard to a report that you have indicated you are planning to release.

At the outset, you should be aware that we are committed to maintaining the highest working standards and take your enquiry extremely seriously. With this in mind, we are disappointed that you refused our request for further particulars of the matters raised and details of the evidence that you have indicated you have. Plainly, this makes it extremely, and unnecessarily, difficult for Soco International plc (the "Company"/"Soco", to properly investigate these matters.We would therefore again request that you provide us with this information. Should you proceed to publish a report without providing us with anything more than the limited information we have received to date, we trust that at the very least you will consider this letter and include this contribution in full in any report that you decide to publish. A number of false and inaccurate allegations have been levelled against the Company in recent years, particularly in the last month, as a result of inaccurate, false, distorted and/or exaggerated accounts of our activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the "DRC")...The seismic survey represents the Company's final operational activity onsite Block V under its current work programme. No drilling has been planned or is warranted at this stage...We reiterate that we take allegations of this nature extremely seriously. We are committed to operating in an ethical and transparent manner...The company operates on a strict Code of Business Conduct and Ethics...We condemn the use of violence and intimidation and are committed to ensuring that all of our activities in the DRC...are conducted in accordance with the strict ethical policies...we are committed to the protection of human rights and endeavour to encourage the same in all our activities...    

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