Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oil Scandal Hits Kurdistan

In September 2009 the Oslo Stock Exchange announced that they had investigated DNO International, a Norwegian oil company, for insider trading involving the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami. In October 2008 DNO sold 43 million shares to a then unknown client for $29.7 million. The buyer turned out to be Turkey’s Genel Enerji and Minister Hawrami served as the middleman. The Oslo Stock Exchange originally fined DNO for insider trading, but that charge was later dropped. The company still had to pay $170,00 for keeping part of the transaction secret.

Now that this deal has become public, Minister Hawrami and the KRG have been embarrassed. Kurdistan has suspended DNO’s work for 6 weeks, and demanded that it repair the KRG’s reputation. They have even gone so far as to say that they might void DNO’s contract if they don’t give a proper explanation of what happened. The KRG has also issued a statement saying that no officials benefited from the sale of DNO’s shares, and that they were only trying to help the two companies so that they could work in Kurdistan. The Baghdad Kassakhoon blog points out that Minister Hawrami violated at least two Iraqi laws that ban public officials from taking part in business transactions as well. Since Hawrami is such an important figurehead in the KRG’s attempts to create their own independent oil policy nothing is likely to happen to him.

DNO is one of three corporations, along with Genel Enerji, who are pumping and exporting oil from Kurdistan. DNO operates the Tawke field, which is producing 40,000-50,000 barrels a day, while Genel, along with Addax Petroleum, run the Taq Taq site. On June 1, 2009 the two fields began exporting, although none of the companies have been paid for their work so far, and may not for years.

If the KRG follows through with its threat and ends DNO’s deal to run the Tawke field it could have wide ranging effects upon Kurdistan’s attempts to attract foreign energy companies to invest in the region. The on-going dispute between Baghdad and the KRG over who has the right to sign oil deals and develop petroleum fields has already kept away many major oil companies from operating in Kurdistan. That argument is also preventing DNO, Genel Enerji, and the other companies pumping oil from being compensated. Now, if the KRG punishes DNO that may keep away even more companies who will look at Iraq in general as having a bad business environment.

DNO and Genel Enerji Operations In Kurdistan
DNO owns 55% of the Tawke project and operates it, while Genel Enerji owns 25%
DNO is also working at the Dohuk site with Genel
Genel Enerji owns 44% of the Taq Taq project along with the Swiss Canadian Addax Petroleum
Heritage Oil that is also working on four fields in the KRG recently bought Genel Enerji Kurdistan

SOURCES

Baghdad’s Kassakhoon, “It is still scandal, more to come,” 9/22/09

Bloomberg, “Kurdish minister implicated in Norway,” 9/18/09

Lando, Ben, “DNO’s Iraq operations suspended,” Iraq Oil Report, 9/22/09

Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Iraqi Kurdistan suspends DNO’s oil operations,” 9/21/09

5 comments:

Kjetting said...

This has been a very interesting week. Since 2004, the shenanigans involved in the DNO deal have been numerous. A well-known dubious Norwegian investor and an ex-US diplomat and public activist held for instance a five per cent interest each in the initial Tawke license. They tried to sell this off at one point, but I suspect that in the end KRG and Hawrami found a way to sanitise the deal, and they seem to have been largely replaced by Genel (of course, with an unknown profit to go).

I think the big question right now is where the 100 mill NOK (17,5 million USD) in profit on the stock deal went. The hysterical reaction from KRG, which seems to be without any merit in the existing legislation, signals that they are desperately trying to avoid any more scrutiny of this deal and their dealings with other oil companies (have they only helped DNO and Genel and reaped additional profit there?). Norwegian authorities, however, do not seem to oblige as the Serious Economic Crime unit in the Norwegian police have opened a case today.

Of the more hilarious elements to this is the rather limp-fisted attempt from DNO to prevent disclosure by the Oslo Bors by citing Norwegian National Security concerns (in very bad Norwegian too). The Norwegian Government has never been particularly happy about the whole engagement and will be happy to see DNO boil in their own oil and the whole mess come to an end.

DNO has also been notorious in manipulating their stock prices through gullible investors that do not understand of what kind of politics DNO has been involved in. Latest example was when the stock increased its value last Friday because Norwegian stock-“analysts” thought that a closer relationship to KRG through ownership would secure their interests. Having followed this for a while, it was rather obvious that shit was about to hit the fan in a big way and that DNO would be hung out to dry by the KRG pretty quickly.

It is noticeable that Hawrami and KRG made a big deal of the transparency clauses in the KRG oil legislation; to my knowledge little if anything has been implemented by way of transparency. This is of course not surprising, given the interests of the economic interests Barzani-family and the lack of transparency overall in KRG dealings. The KRG oil sector is as little transparent as it has always been.

I would imagine that Oil Minister Shahristani is carrying a slight smirk on his face these days.

Joel Wing said...

From what I understand some of the oil that DNO was pumping before they got the okay to export was also being smuggled into Iran for sale by the KRG.

Also thanks for the very informative comment!

Kjetting said...

Yes, initial production, around 8000 barrels per day was trucked, mainly through Suleymania and into Iran. It was probabaly technically smuggled, but it was the only way to dispose of the oil (and give PUK their share maybe - the most efficient route would be on tankers to Turkey).

But, when production increased this was no longer an option. KRG thought they outmanouvered Shahristani by making a side-deal with Shahristani's enemy Fiannce Minister Bayan Jabr, but Shahristani trumped this deal in the Cabinet and the KRG is stuck with their 17 per cent (which of course will not even begin to cover the 55 production share profit that DNO has in teh deal).

In the end, KRG outsmarted themselves.

It will be interesting to see if Goran latches on to the DNO case - clearly the unaccounted 17.5 million USD profit from the deal could fuel the perception of corruption and lack of transparency that was important for Goran's success.

Joel Wing said...

During the 2009 Kurdish elections the Change List did accuse the PUK and KDP of corruption in their oil dealings, which of course was denied.

The question now is what are they going to do with this new story. If they run alone and then agree to join the KDP and PUK in a Kurdish coalition in parliament, it doesn't seem like they would use it. If Maliki gets them to run with State of Law however, as everyone seems to think he'll try, then it's probably open game on it.

Aaron said...

Kjetting, I'm doing some research on this issue and would love to pick your brain as you seem to know a lot about the environment. Am interested specifically in those 5 per cent interests that were bumped out for Genel. if you like you can email me at a.messner10 at gmail . Thanks

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