SOCO in Virunga: A Chronology of Accusations, Denials and Falsities
15 July 2013: Coalition of NGOs condemns “intimidations, arbitrary arrest, and torture of local community members opposing oil developments in Virunga National Park”, saying the “perpetrator” is Feruzi.
26 July 2013: Soco responds to the NGO statement, saying that it is “aware of the allegations” and intends to “investigate these allegations thoroughly”. Soco subsequently removes its response from its website.
15 April 2014: Chief warden of Virunga park Emmanuel de Merode is shot by unknown gunmen after returning from Goma where he had deposited a dossier on Soco’s activities.
16 April 2014: Soco issues statement denying involvement in the attack on de Merode.
17 April 2014: ‘Virunga’ debuts at Tribeca film festival. Footage of Feruzi offering the $3000 bribe is subsequently seen by audiences and Soco.
23 April 2014: Soco says it will start seismic testing in Virunga.
24 April 2014: Soco issues a response to the ‘Virunga’ documentary to the BBC. Soco says the filmmisrepresents its activities and “insists that it is fully informed of all activities on the ground by its representatives and that its operations are monitored closely.”
30 April 2014: Soco pays Feruzi $26,650. Feruzi’s note of receipt says the money was paid by Mr Damas [Vunabandi] and is to be used to pay soldiers’ salaries for April and per diems for May.
2 May 2014: Soco tells independent investigators hired by its shareholder Aviva that Feruzi has ‘no “role for Soco”’. Full quote from the repot: “SOCO has made it clear…that while Major Feruzi ‘is the person who was given the responsibility of liaising with our local company officials to ensure their own security whilst they were present in the area, he has no “role for SOCO”.’” (“SOCO International’s activities in DR Congo (Block V)”, Eiris, 5 June 2014, p.15).
12 May 2014: WWF staff and members of civil society receive threatening calls and text messagesrelated to their campaigning against oil activities in Virunga.
13 May 2014: Soco denies any involvement in threats to activists.
15 May 2014: Feruzi is paid $15,600 by Soco. Feruzi’s note of receipt acknowledges payment from Damas Vunabandi, but does not explain what the money is for. This brings the amount paid to Feruzi by Soco to $42,250 in barely two weeks.
27 May 2014: Global Witness writes to Soco with 20 questions about its activities in Virunga, including “What payments and benefits – if any – have Soco, directly or indirectly, given to Major Feruzi?”
29 May 2014: A Soco spokesperson meets Global Witness to respond to the questions. The spokesperson says: “He [Feruzi] hasn’t received money from us… We wouldn’t allow that and the books haven’t revealed that he has.”
30 May 2014: Soco issues a statement to Human Rights Watch calling various allegations of bribery and intimidation “false and inaccurate”. It adds: “It also increasingly seems to be the case that anyone engaging in alleged questionable and unethical conduct are immediately branded ‘SOCO representatives’ and ‘SOCO supporters’ even when they simply are not and have nothing to do with our company.”
4 June 2014: Soco responds in writing to Global Witness’s questions of 27 May (see above). The company avoids directly answering the questions but does say that it “condemn[s] the use of violence and intimidation” and that it “categorically denied” breaching UK bribery laws.
13 June 2014: Soco completes seismic tests in the park. Soco continues geological studies inside Virunga National Park until 22 July.
6 September 2014: The Telegraph publishes an article about Soco in Virunga. The article reports local claims, backed up by Human Rights Watch, that soldiers guarding Soco’s base killed two fisherman in April after they allegedly opposed oil activities. Soco’s deputy chief executive Roger Cagle vehemently denied responsibility for these actions to the Telegraph, saying that the soldiers were “not associated with Soco. They’re assigned to us. We can’t tell the army to go and kiss off”.
12 March 2015: In its preliminary 2014 results statement, Soco announces that it appointed its own solicitors Clifford Chance “[i]n the summer of 2014” to look into the “allegations of wrong doing made by various NGO’s [sic] and media members”. The terms of reference for the review are not public and Soco has made no commitment to publish the results.
13/14 March 2015: The BBC broadcasts testimony from a fisherman at Soco’s Virunga base who says, “I found myself face to face with a boat belonging to Soco, and then a white man on board took a pair of scissors and cut my fishing net, even though he could have just let me through. So I asked him why he had cut my net, and then he called a speedboat full of soldiers. They started hitting me. They punched me and whacked me with their paddles.” The same radio piece presents an interview with a Congolese soldier who says he guarded Soco’s installations. “[M]y commander said that we had to work with the people from Soco,” he says. “We would secure the lake, and then when we finished the month only Soco would pay our salaries, not government.” He says the money from Soco, $150 a month, was more than his usual government salary. He says the man who paid him, via Feruzi, is called Pieter Kock. Kock was a Soco contractor employed through South African security firm Specialised Security Consultants. Soco’s response, as reported by the BBC, was to say that it has never paid Congolese soldiers, directly or indirectly, and that the government paid them in the usual way.
A PDF of the chronology available is here.
Source: Global Witness
In June 2013, Total responded to calls to protect Virunga by promising to refrain from any oil activities within the current boundaries of the park. Soco has made no such promise.
In June 2014 Soco released a joint statement with conservationist campaigners WWF, following mediation by the OECD, in which the company promised to halt its work in Virunga once seismic testing had been completed. Despite the announcement being greeted by WWF and others as a victory for the park, the wording left Soco scope to relaunch oil operations in the event that “UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status.”Global Witness said at the time that the statement “looks like a ruse.”
The BAFTA- and Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Virunga’ helped to expose unsavoury practices carried out by Soco, its contractors and representatives in the course of its work in the park. Global Witness used footage from ‘Virunga’, unseen footage provided by the filmmakers, and its own research to publish a catalogue of damning accusations against the company in its report ‘Drillers in the Mist’.
Global Witness’ report reveals that Soco and its contractors have made illicit payments, appear to have paid off armed rebels and benefited from fear and violence in eastern Congo as they sought access to Virunga for oil exploration.
Undercover footage in ‘Virunga’, testimony gathered by Global Witness and other organisations, including Congolese NGOs and Human Rights Watch, show that Soco’s allies in the Congolese military and parks authorities have offered bribes and been implicated in acts of intimidation against anti-oil activists. There is also evidence that Soco paid a local MP, who was at the time a government minister, to campaign on their behalf. The MP even helped organise payments to local organisations to hold a pro-oil demonstration in the park.
A Congolese anti-oil activist told British parliamentarians, during a visit to London in December 2014, that “every day brings the threat of death”. The chief warden of Virunga was shot in April 2014, though not fatally, by unknown gunmen shortly after delivering a dossier on Soco’s activities to the public prosecutor in the provincial capital, while conservation activists received anonymous death threats by text message and phone call.
Soco has denied any involvement in these horrendous acts, and says that it “does not condone, partake in or tolerate corrupt or illegal activity whatsoever”.
Soco representatives were caught on undercover camera by the filmmakers talking dismissively about the park and the need to protect the gorillas, one security contractor saying “Who gives a fuck about a fucking monkey”. The same representatives also suggest that Soco’s contractors may have paid money to armed rebel groups in Virunga in order to have access to the area.
Since this evidence has come to light some of Soco’s shareholders have expressed concern at the behaviour of the company, its contractors and representatives in Virunga. In February 2015 the Church of England, which owns £3 million of Soco shares, issued a strong statement calling for an independent inquiry in Soco’s Virunga operations. It also demanded a new commitment from the company to permanently end its operations in Virunga, within the existing boundaries of the park.
Global Witness research into Soco’s previous oil operations in central Africa provides further cause for alarm. Soco was mired in controversy in 2005 in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s neighbour, Congo-Brazzaville, when it held a controlling stake in an offshore oil block. Another private company was awarded a 10% share of the block, but a UK court showed that this company was owned by a presidential adviser who was also the head of the national oil company, and therefore in charge of the oil block bidding process.
Another offshore company, British Virgin Islands’ registered Quantic Ltd, received a 15% stake of Soco’s operation in Congo and is paid a $50,000 monthly consulting fee, apparently in return for Quantic’s assistance in securing the oil rights. Soco annual reports revealed one part-owner to be Rui de Sousa: Soco’s own chairman. The nature of the assistance provided by Quantic is unclear, as are Quantic’s other owners, which constitutes a serious corruption red flag.
Given Soco’s history in Congo-Brazzaville and the brazen attitude displayed by its representatives on the ground in the ‘Virunga’ film, Global Witness is calling on the company to launch a full and independent investigation into its activities in Virunga. Soco should follow Total’s lead in promising never to work inside Virunga, to respect the park’s current boundaries and to not sell on the oil rights to another company.
Source: Global Witness
BREAKING NEWS WWF-SOCO Joint Statement
June 11th, 2014: ‘In relation to Virunga National Park we will complete our existing operational programme of work in Virunga which we anticipate will conclude within approximately 30 days of the date of this statement. The company commits not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status’ (Statement).
This shows however that SOCO is open to drilling for oil if the park’s World Heritage status is removed or adapted; oil exploration may therefore occur in the future, posing the same threats to the park. Source: Emiliy Lora James
It is deplorable to see a protected area that has survived years of armed conflict threatened by the activities of commercial companies whose activities risk devastating the Park’s wildlife and the livelihoods of surrounding communities. In addition to direct impacts on the environment and the livelihoods of communities, the indirect impacts of oil development, in particular in the form of an influx of people attracted by the increased economic activity as well as new vested interests and power holders in the area, are likely to lead to increased conflict both with local community members and with the Parks wildlife.1
Total percentage of Block V that contains Virunga National Park
Partners : Block V is 85% owned by SOCO– Operator-, with the remaining 15% belonging to La Congolaise Des Hydrocarbures, the state-owned oil firm of the Democratic Republic of Congo.1
Awarded in June 2010, the Block V, Albertine Graben exploration license is operated by SOCO, in partnership with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). More than half of the acreage is located in Virunga National Park a Unesco World Heritage Site. SOCO has not pledged not to work on this section and protected Area, in compliance with Congolese legislation and international conventions.
Key Source: SOCO
SOCO has committed that it will never seek to have operations in the Mountain Gorilla habitat, the Virunga Volcanoes or the Virunga equatorial rainforest.
The extent of SOCO’s current involvement is limited to ‘Block V’, which is located in the southern Albertine Graben in Eastern DRC adjacent to the border with Uganda and includes a section of the Virunga National Park, and an area of lowland savannah south of Lake Edward.
It is emphasised that Block V is not located within the mountainous Mikeno Sector, home to the famous Mountain Gorillas. This has been subject to much inaccurate media speculation.
Although Block V does encompass an area of the Virunga National Park, this area comprises mostly lowland savannah around Lake Edward and the lake itself.
It is important to note the context for SOCO’s presence in Eastern DRC which is explained below:
SOCO’s involvement in Block V is at the express invitation of the DRC formalised through a Production Sharing Contract signed in 2006 and ratified by Presidential Decree in 2010 for the purposes of exploration and production of hydrocarbons.
SOCO currently have a contractual commitment with the DRC to assess the hydrocarbon potential of Block V. The DRC has determined that our activities are legal according to their own legislation. If the DRC government decides that our involvement in Block V is no longer legal then SOCO will, of course, discontinue all activities.
It is emphasised that no drilling in the Virunga National Park has been planned, or is even warranted at this stage. As part of the scientific studies, SOCO will conduct an aerial survey which involves a helicopter flying over Lake Edward and the adjacent area of lowland savannah to gather magnetic and gravity information. The aerial survey is the only exploration activity planned at this time.
In addition, SOCO would like to add that it has carried out an extensive communications campaign to help familiarise local communities with our proposed activities. The feedback from this engagement has been that the vast majority welcome us as a potential catalyst for positive change.
SOCO cares about the environment and the local communities, and we are of the conviction that our activities will provide an economic stimulus in the region for the communities’ livelihood, and accordingly this will help to address the pervasive poverty that is currently one of the primary threats to conservation.
“Lets say that oil is discovered here. Crops from fields farmed by people living around here will never grow. It will be the end of the poorest people.”
These local stories were filmed in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is a five part series of films dealing with oil exploration in Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and its potential environmental and human rights impact.
These films are intended to give a voice to local communities living in and around Virunga National Park. It is their voice, their fears and feelings about the oil developments in Noth Kivu.
Oil in North Kivu: the fear of oil, is a message of local communities to their leaders, their political representatives and the international community concerning oil exploration in block V.