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Trial underway against Shell Exploration New Zealand


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The Dominion Post: Gasfields may be linked, court told

By KRIS HALL – The Dominion Post | Monday, 12 May 2008

New Zealand’s longest running insider trading case, which finally came to court last week, resumes after suggestions by an expert witness that some of the Taranaki basin’s core deep gas and oil structures are connected.

Consultant petroleum geologist Thomas Haskill told the High Court at Auckland on Friday that the porous nature of sediment on the seabed meant gas in the Pohokura, Turangi, Mangahewa and Kowahi fields could be linked.

It is claimed that such an idea was first put forward in 1995 by a team of experts hired to undertake a deep gas study of the area before the takeover of Southern Petroleum by Fletcher Challenge later that year.

The case centres on the share price offered to minority investors in Southern shortly before its acquisition by Fletcher Challenge.

Five weeks have been put aside for the court hearing of the action by 700 former Southern shareholders who are suing Shell Exploration New Zealand, which bought Fletcher Challenge in 2001.

The plaintiffs claim that Fletcher Challenge, which owned 85 per cent of Southern at the time it launched its 1995 takeover bid, had insider information that showed Southern’s oil and gas prospects in the Taranaki basin were worth more than it was offering.

Shareholders argue that when they were bought out by majority owner Petrocorp, then a subsidiary of Fletcher Challenge, it was aware of “good news” in a deep gas study of Southern’s Mangahewa field, petroleum prospecting licence 38705, but neglected to disclose the information.

The study evaluated the Mangahewa structure as “potentially bigger than Maui” and the likelihood of recovering hydrocarbons was said to be at the highest level of accepted industry standards.

Southern shareholders were paid 75 cents a share in the 1995 takeover but claim they would have got much more – up to $3 a share – had the information been made public.

The case rests on the allegation that Fletcher Challenge’s James Patek, a director of both the Fletcher subsidiary and Southern, knew that the potential size of Mangahewa – in which the two companies owned a joint venture – was greater than what the Southern minority shareholders had been told when they accepted the bid.

Gary Judd, QC, opened the plaintiffs’ case with a letter, on a Fletcher Challenge letterhead, and dated November 6, 1995, recommending Fletcher buy out the Southern minorities.

Earlier, Mr Judd revealed a 1995 document that outlined three challenges, including a plan to enhance Petrocorp’s position, that were set out in a 1992 strategy document by Fletcher management.

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