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The Peninsula (Qatar): Tehran plans outside fund to skirt sanctions

Web posted at: 5/28/2007 8:3:16
Source ::: Reuters

tehran • Iran is planning an investment fund outside the Islamic Republic to raise finance for its huge South Pars gas field and circumvent a financial squeeze by Washington, a top Iranian energy official said yesterday.

As the United States pushes for tighter UN sanctions on Iran over its atomic work, Akbar Torkan, head of the Pars Oil and Gas Company, said Tehran would base the fund in Bahrain or Dubai, both regional financial centres.

“It’s a reaction against the financial sanctions on Iran,” said Torkan, a former defence minister. “There are no sanctions against an investment fund.”

The proposal for the fund — open to all — needs government approval but Torkan said he was confident the South Pars Investment Fund would get official backing in about a month.

The cash would be assigned to development phases of the field and would ensure the government would not have to dip into its own coffers as it recently did for some other phases.

The United States is leading efforts to isolate Iran over its atomic programme, which Washington says involves a covert plan to make bombs, a charge Iran denies. Washington has slapped sanctions on two Iranian banks. UN sanctions targeted one.

Iranian officials have brushed off the impact but Torkan said the measures had deterred several foreign banks. “No European bank is ready to prepare new financing for us. The US is putting pressure on all European banks,” he said, adding US pressure extended to oil companies such as Statoil and Total.

Two of Iran’s European investors — Royal Dutch Shell and Total — have indicated publicly political concerns could influence any new investment plans.

The fund idea was prompted by Societe General’s withdrawal from phases 17 and 18 of the South Pars gas field.

“SocGen has stopped their financial support because of pressure from the US,” said Torkan, adding the government had allocated $720m from reserves for the project, still a small fraction of the $5bn cost of the project.

Investors would be guaranteed a minimum rate of return of 8 per cent by the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), he said without giving a time frame. The maximum would be 15.9 per cent.

Despite sanctions, Iran says foreigners are still keen to invest in Iran’s gas reserves, the world’s second biggest. Torkan is now negotiating with local Petropars and Italy’s Eni for a buy-back contract for South Pars phases 19-21.

Buy-backs are standard development contracts in Iran, where investment in developing a field is rewarded with a share of production for a short period before the state repurchases the field. Foreign firms often complain about the terms, however.

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