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Financial Times: Agreement being flagged as sound deal

By Dino Mahtani
Published: November 22 2007 02:00 | Last updated: November 22 2007 02:00

Signing deals with an oil company that saw its shares crash when it failed to find commercial quantities of oil from a much-hyped exploration concession could be a risky venture for a partner.

But yesterday’s memorandum of understanding between Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s biggest oil company, of a preliminary agreement to farm into two Ukrainian gas fields owned by Regal Petroleum, the Aim listed oil and gas company, is being promoted as a sound investment.

Shell says it will be performing due diligence before it signs off with Regal, the company founded by Frank Timis, the colourful Romania-born millionaire.

Regal has had a bumpy ride with investors since 2005 when it announced its Greek field that it had previously claimed as having significant resources was dry.

The company has also courted controversy through Mr Timis, who has twice been convicted for possessing heroin with intent to supply. In spite of being forced out as Regal chief executive after the Greek scandal in June 2006, he remains the company’s largest shareholder, holding about 20 per cent of the company.

The company, which floated in 2002, hit highs of 509p a share in March 2005 but then collapsed in the wake of the revelations of troubles over its Greek assets.

Mr Timis had also upset his colleagues by secretly offering to sell the company’s Ukrainian assets to Peak Resources, the Hong Kong-based vehicle for Hans Troedsson, the Swedish investor. The deal was rescinded after Mr Timis left Regal.

Over the past year the company has also been tangled up in legal proceedings in Ukraine over the control of assets there, but won a significant victory when the Ukrainian supreme court ruled in its favour last year.

In 2004 Regal decided to develop its Ukrainian gas exploration on its own prompting a court battle with Chernihivnaftogasgeologia (CNGG), a Ukrainian government agency that had been Regal’s joint venture partner.

After CNGG won several court victories against Regal and dented its share price, the company hired Dmytro Gelfendbeyn, a Ukrainian consultant, to help win the case. Mr Gelfendbeyn was promised $50.9m (£24.8m), or 15 per cent of the equity if the case was settled in Regal’s favour.

Last December, Ukraine’s supreme court ruled in favour of Regal pushing its shares up 15 per cent. Sources close to the company said Alberry Limited, a BVI-registered vehicle owned by Mr Gelfendbeyn was in fact largely owned by CNGG, along with NAK Nadra, a state-owned oil company.

Sources close to Regal say under such conditions the Ukrainian authorities would be unlikely to contest the deal since Shell has increased its leverage in Ukraine by signing another oil and gas exploration contract there last year.

The deal looks good for Regal which will receive $50m in cash for the interest in its Jersey-based subsidiary that controls the gas fields. After that Shell will spend $360m on investment, paying for Regal’s planned capital expenditure.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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