Thursday 29 June 2017

Sanctions hope for Libya stake in Irish oil firm

Gaddafi exit could see Irish targeting Libyan oil

Louise McBride

Louise McBride

a freeze on Libya's stake in the Irish oil company Circle Oil could soon be lifted, after EU officials met last week to discuss the removal of Libyan sanctions.

Libya's 18 per cent stake in Circle Oil, an Irish oil and gas exploration company, was frozen last March on foot of an EU order that was put in place to increase pressure on the dictator Col Muammar Gaddafi, whose government was overthrown last week.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said last Tuesday that EU officials had met "to begin to think about how we will move forward on the release of (Libyan) assets and the removal of sanctions". The United Nations last week freed up €1.03bn of Libyan assets held in US banks.

Gaddafi amassed a raft of lucrative investments for Libya during his 42-year reign, including a stake in Italian bank Unicredit, and stakes in publishing giant Pearson and Italian football club Juventus.

A source close to the European Council said it would take time for the EU to decide on freeing up Libyan assets "so it ensures such assets fall into the right hands".

"Over time, it's likely that everything will be unfrozen but the chances are that any decision on Circle Oil will be further down the road," said Gerry Hennigan, analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers.

Circle Oil, which operates in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Oman, was set up in 2003 by a group of investors led by the Irish entrepreneur David Hough. The Irish oil and gas investor John McKeon is a co-founder of the company. Thomas Anderson, a member of the Ward-Anderson cinema family, is its chairman.

Separately, the Irish oil and gas company Petroceltic is eyeing up Libya as a possible base for future operations.

"We have never invested in Libya but we would look at deals there now," said Brian O'Cathain, chief executive of Petroceltic, which has operations in Algeria. " The skills we have in Algeria would be marketable and transportable to Libya."

Paul Harris, head of natural resources risk management with Bank of Ireland, said the situation in Libya "might offer an opportunity for Irish companies".

"Libya holds around 46.4 billion barrels of oil reserves, the largest in Africa, but the country is still underexplored," said Mr Harris.

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