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Algerians outraged over latest corruption accusations against state oil and gas behemoth


Fox News

March 3, 2013 / Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria –  Corrupt and gorging itself at the trough of Algeria’s vast oil wealth — that’s how most Algerians privately view the elites running the country. Yet few have been willing to say so publicly, until now.

New corruption scandals are shining a new spotlight on state oil company Sonatrach, which jointly with BP and Norway’s Statoil runs the desert gas plant that was the scene of a bloody hostage standoff in January.

A recent anguished public plea by a former Sonatrach official shocked Algerians and raised hopes that the leadership will try to clean up the oil and gas sector in Africa’s largest country.

There’s plenty at stake: Algeria is also one of the continent’s richest countries, as the No. 3 supplier of natural gas to Europe, with $190 billion in reserves, up $8 billion in the last year alone.

The Feb. 18 letter by former Sonatrach vice president Hocine Malti in the French-language Algerian daily El Watan broke the silence around the company. Addressing the shadowy leader of Algeria’s intelligence service, it asks if he is really serious about investigating new bribery scandals involving Sonatrach and Italian and Canadian companies.

When Italian prosecutors in January announced an investigation into oil company ENI and subsidiary SAIPEM for allegedly paying €197 million ($256.1 million) in bribes to secure an €11 billion contract with Sonatrach, it provoked a firestorm in the Algerian media, until the North African country’s justice system finally announced its own inquiry Feb. 10.

Malti, author of the “Secret History of Algerian Oil,” scoffed that Algerian authorities were only following the lead of international investigators and wondered if Mohammed “Tewfik” Mediene, the feared head of the Department of Research and Security, would allow the real sources of corruption to be tried in court.

“Is it too much to dream that some of your fellow generals, certain ministers or corrupt businessmen — members of the pyramid that you are on top of — members of this fraternity, might also end up in front of justice?” he asked in the letter. “Or will it be like always, just the small fry are targeted by this new investigation?”

“Will we have to continue to listen for news from the Milan prosecutor to know the sad reality of our country, to discover how certain people, whom you know quite well, people you have come across in your long professional career, have gorged themselves on millions of dollars and euros of the country’s oil revenues?” he added.

The response to the letter was swift. Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi promised that once an investigation was complete “we will take all necessary measures” against those harming the interests of the nation.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who rarely appears in public, said in a written statement, “these revelations provoke our disgust and condemnation, but I trust the justice system of our country to bring clarity to the web of accusations and discover who is responsible.”

Malti told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in France that he wrote the letter partly out of anger that Algeria had to rely on foreign prosecutors to reveal the extent of its own corruption and addressed it to the head of intelligence to shock people.

“It made a lot of noise because with this letter, I broke a taboo,” he said. “The head of the DRS is an unapproachable figure in Algeria, at times we can’t even pronounce (say) his name.”

It is not the first time the state-owned hydrocarbon company, which provides Algeria with 97 percent of its hard currency earnings, has been enmeshed in scandal.

In 2010, its head, three of its vice presidents and the minister of energy were all fired in a corruption investigation run by Mediene’s intelligence agency.

However, rather than restore faith in the country’s corruption-fighting mechanism, the 2010 purge was widely seen as a chance to settle scores between the DRS and Bouteflika, since most of those fired were his close associates.

Algeria ranks 105 out of 176 in Transparency International‘s 2012 corruption index, and the occasional corruption investigation often just seems to be how the elites settle their scores, such as a string of revelations about prominent politicians in November, which observers said were linked to next year’s presidential elections.

“I realize that people might be shocked by what is happening at Sonatrach — these scandals are terrible and we condemn them as individual acts,” Sonatrach head Abdelhamid Zerguine said on the radio Sunday, the anniversary of Algeria’s 1971 nationalization of its oil industry from the French. He promised to fight further corruption “with utmost vigor,” even while denying it was systemic.

The scale of the scandals is staggering. Nearly €200 million ($260 million) was paid out by the Italians, according to the Milan prosecutor. ENI has pledged full cooperation with prosecutors in their investigations.

Meanwhile, according to a joint investigation by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper and an Italian business paper published Feb. 22, Canadian company SNC-Lavalin paid a series of bribes of its own to secure a $1 billion engineering contract. Company spokeswoman Lilly Nguyen responded to queries about the case saying “to the best of our knowledge, SNC-Lavalin is not specifically under investigation in the Sonatrach matter.”

With commissions on deals like this going to the highest levels of power, the Algerian press rarely reports about it — until the subject is broached by the foreign media.

Malti, who was there at the founding of Sonatrach in 1963, estimated that the country was losing between $3 and 6 billion annually to corruption in the oil sector alone.

“If a judge says that an inquiry has opened or even a minister promises to take measures against ‘people working against Algeria’s interests,’ I don’t believe them,” Mohammed Saidj, a professor of international relations at Algiers University, told the AP. “It’s just words to appease a public opinion shocked when it hears about the corruption and billions of dollars stolen by high-level political and military officials, including those close to the president.”

The chances of this situation changing are dim, considering how much the country relies on a single company.

In a chapter on Sonatrach in the 2012 book “Oil and Governance,” John Entelis, an Algeria expert at New York’s Fordham University, described the importance of a company established just a year after Algeria won its independence from France, and wrote, “Algeria’s governing elite rely upon Sonatrach for revenue from which they gain power, patronage, and privileges.”

Entelis told AP that the letter in El Watan shows that Algerians are increasingly able to complain about this system, even if that won’t necessarily change things.

“This is the heart of the Algerian political system — Sonatrach, the DRS, civil society in the form of … willingness to make these things public. Some say this is what enables it to maintain itself instead of collapse,” he said.

___

Paul Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco. Associated Press writer Karim Kebir contributed to this report from Algiers, Algeria.

Nigeria: ‘Oil-gas sector mismanagement costs billions’


BBC News Africa

October 25, 2012

A leaked report into Nigeria‘s oil and gas industry has revealed the extent of mismanagement and corruption that is costing billions of dollars each year.

The report, seen by the BBC, was commissioned by the oil minister in the wake of this year’s fuel protests to probe the financial side of the sector.

It says $29bn (£18bn) was lost in the last decade in an apparent price-fixing scam involving the sale of natural gas.

It also calculated the treasury loses $6bn a year because of oil theft.

Nigeria is one of the world’s biggest oil producers but most of its people remain mired in poverty.

The Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force report is one of several commissioned by the government – and follows an outcry after a parliamentary investigation uncovered a massive multi-billion fuel subsidy scam.

That had been set up after angry nationwide protests in January when the government tried to remove a fuel subsidy.

Earlier this week, a campaign was launched to clean up Nigeria’s oil sector.

It was led by Patrick Dele Cole, a politician from the oil-rich Niger Delta region, who said that 90% of the stolen oil was refined in eastern Europe and Singapore.

The BBC’s Will Ross in Lagos says this leaked report exposes the extent of the rot in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry – all the way from the awarding of contracts to the sale of refined products.

It is staggering just how much money the people of Nigeria appear to be missing out on, he says.

Nigeria’s Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke declined to comment on the specifics of the probe but said a report compiled from several committees set up earlier in the year to investigate the oil and gas sector was in its final stages and would be presented to the president soon.

‘Total overhaul’

The Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, headed by former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu, revealed in its report that losses of revenue to the treasury over apparent gas price-fixing involved dealings between Total, Eni and Shell and government officials.

The report does not suggest the companies broke the law but called for measures to be put in place to ensure all transactions are more transparent.

It said that oil and gas companies owe the treasury more than $3bn in royalties.

For the period 2005 to 2011, it said $566m was owed in signature bonuses – the fees a company is supposed to pay up front for the right to exploit an oil block.

The report looked at the issue of discretionary licences which companies do not have to bid for.

Between 2008 and 2011 it found the Nigerian government had handed out seven discretionary licences, from which $183m in signature bonuses had not been paid.

A Shell spokesman said the company would not comment as it had not yet seen the report.

Our correspondent says it is well known that oil theft is a major problem in Nigeria, but the report says it may be reaching emergency levels as 250,000 barrels of crude oil could be being stolen every day – 10% of annual production.

The leaked report said that small-scale “pilfering” had been “endemic since at least the late 1990s”, but it also said it had heard allegations about thefts from crude export terminals, tank farms, refinery storage tanks, jetties and ports.

“Submissions to the Task Force alleged that officials and private actors disguise theft through manipulation of meters and shipping documents,” the report said.

“Yet there is also evidence that members of the security forces condone and, in some cases, profit from theft. The void in effective security likewise appears to increasingly hand over control of coastal and inland waterways to undesirable elements.”

The investigation showed that 40% of refined products – either refined in Nigeria or imported – currently being channelled through state-owned pipelines are lost to theft and sabotage.

Mr Ribadu’s investigation calls for a total overhaul of the industry with an oil sector transparency law requiring all companies to report all payments and publish all contracts and licences.

The Task Force also wants a special financial crimes unit to be established specifically for the oil and gas sector.

Huge gas discovery off Mozambique


 

News24.com

Johannesburg – Italian oil company Eni SpA has announced the discovery of more natural gas off the coast of Mozambique, expanding the yield of a major field off the southeast African nation.

Eni said on Wednesday that the field includes at least 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, increasing the total yield of the area to 70 trillion cubic feet.

The company said the drill site is 60km off the Capo Delgado coast. Eni has a 70% interest in the field, with Portuguese firm GalpEnergia, South Korea’s KOGAS and ENH each having a 10% stake.

Natural gas exploration has increased in recent years in Africa, long a source for crude oil. Recent discoveries in Mozambique have made it a major regional source of liquefied natural gas.

AP

 

Libya, U.S. Probe Oil-Company Deals


The Wall Street Journal

By Benoit Faucon, Summer Said, and Liam Moloney

April 8, 2012

New Government Aims to Shed Light on Petroleum INdustry‘s Interaction with Gadhafi regime

Authorities in the U.S. and Libya are investigating oil giants such as Italy’s Eni SpA and France’s Total SA over their past relations with the fallen Libyan regime, potentially casting a cloud on the companies’ ambitions to expand their foothold in the country with the largest oil reserves in Africa.

Last year, a civil war that toppled Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi nearly shut down the country’s crude production, stressing global oil markets. But as oil-company operations return to normal, the probes may complicate the oil companies’ business in the country.

The Libyan general prosecutor’s office is investigating “Libyan and foreign operators in Libya” for possible “financial irregularities,” its deputy head, Abdelmajeed Saad, said in an interview.

In a March letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the prosecutor’s office formally asked the head of audit at Libya’s National Oil Co. to supply oil-company documents. The letter mentions oil transactions between NOC and international traders Vitol Group and Glencore International PLC as examples of documents it is seeking. Though the Libyan probe focuses mostly on the Gadhafi era, the letter indicates that the request involving the traders includes the period of the country’s civil war through the present.

The companies investigated also include Eni, the biggest foreign oil player in Libya, and Total, Mr. Saad said…Read more.

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