Tuesday 23 October 2018

Quiet McDade's in spotlight with Tullow turmoil

Giant explorer has endured a rough number of weeks
Giant explorer has endured a rough number of weeks
South Africa’s tax agency has filed a legal claim against local billionaire Christo Wiese and former executives at a law firm

Gavin McLoughlin, Ana Monteiro and Janice Kew

Tullow Oil has had a rough couple of weeks. It's had to shut down operations at an oilfield in Kenya which has been effectively blockaded by protesters, it's taken a very expensive loss in the court room, and now it finds itself in the headlines over an investigation into a South African billionaire.

Shares in the company are down around 20pc since late May, though they are still above where they started the year as Tullow has managed to reduce a heavy debt burden and give itself a platform for future development.

It's a future without Aidan Heavey - the long time chief executive, later chairman, who has just departed the company's board.

His replacement as chief executive, Paul McDade, has kept a low profile since being appointed in April of last year.

The company, which has no Irish oil assets and is listed in London, has been flying well under the radar too. Until the last few weeks, that is.

South Africa's tax agency has filed a legal claim against local billionaire Christo Wiese and former executives at law firm ENSafrica for more than 217 million rand (€14m) in unpaid taxes, court documents show.

South Africa’s tax agency has filed a legal claim against local billionaire Christo Wiese and former executives at a law firm
South Africa’s tax agency has filed a legal claim against local billionaire Christo Wiese and former executives at a law firm

Tullow has been dragged into the claim.

The papers filed in the Western Cape High Court is part of a wider 3.7 billion rand (€235m) claim by the South African Revenue Service (SARS), according to a report in the 'Financial Mail' published on Thursday.

ENSafrica created a tax structure to help Tullow shift assets valued at 3.9 billion (€247m) rand out of the country, avoiding taxes in the process, the Johannesburg magazine said.

SARS claimed ENSafrica restructured Tullow, leaving ENS in charge of a South African company that was a tax shell, and then sold this on to Mr Wiese and his Titan group, the magazine reported.

Mr Wiese then allegedly moved assets out of the company and sold it to a former ENSafrica executive who told the tax agency there weren't any assets or cash to claim, it said.

"Titan had nothing to do with the restructuring and gained no tax benefit," Mr Wiese said.

"I will be taking legal advice on whatever is misleading. The restructure has nothing to do with me; this is a SARS and ENS matter." SARS can't comment on the affairs of taxpayers, it said. Tullow declined to comment.

An entity related to ENSafrica bought one of the group companies involved in the Tullow restructure in 2007 and this was subsequently sold to Titan in the same year, ENSafrica said.

ENSafrica and its affiliates have, "at all times, complied with all the requirements of the relevant tax laws", the firm said.

Unwelcome for Tullow though the headlines will be, the more bitter pill to swallow is the loss of a court case against drilling rig provider Seadrill.

Tullow purported to quit a contract with Seadrill when a border dispute between Ghana and Ivory Coast restricted drilling, but a court has now ruled this was invalid. The net result is a hit of around $200m (€170m) for the Irish oil and gas company - exceeding a $120m provision it had made.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as to whether Tullow will shut down operations at a project in Kenya. The project is a pilot to see if it's worth ramping up investment to bring the field into full production.

Other prospects are set to be drilled over the next couple of years - and with decent production coming out of projects in West Africa the company has a solid base on which to go forward. Mr McDade will doubtless want to get back to doing things quietly. (Additional reporting Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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