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Tax bills hit Exxon and Shell

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Tax bills hit Exxon and Shell

By Matthew Green in Lagos

Published: May 23 2008 03:00 | Last updated: May 23 2008 03:00

Nigeria is demanding Shell and ExxonMobil pay a combined total of almost $2bn (£1bn) in unpaid taxes and revenues after a review of contracts covering huge offshore oilfields signed in the early 1990s.

The demand has underlined the government’s desire to drive a harder bargain with western majors in spite of deals struck in the past week to tackle funding shortfalls damaging its joint ventures with ExxonMobil and Total.

Emmanuel Egbogah, the chairman of the committee that examined the contracts, told the Financial Times he would contact the oil companies shortly to begin recovering the funds.

“I am extremely confident that we will get the money that we say is owed to us, because this is based on the facts of the agreement,” Mr Egbogah said.

The committee concluded that Shell and ExxonMobil owe the government a total of $1.91bn after reviewing the way tax-breaks were implemented under the agreements, and the pricing system for gas sold by Shell.

Shell said the matter was under discussion. “Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd (SNEPCo) conducts its business in compliance with all laws and regulations,” the company said. ExxonMobil was not available for comment. Analysts said both companies were likely to contest the findings.

The review of the contracts forms part of an overhaul of the energy sector launched last year by Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s president, aimed at maximising revenues from Africa’s biggest oil industry.

But industry executives say Nigeria’s increasingly assertive demands are among the factors slowing growth in the deepwater arena, seen by Western majors as one of the world’s most geologically promising but underexplored oil and gas frontiers.

Nigeria aims to boost production partly by tackling funding shortfalls in its five joint ventures with Western majors in the creeks of the Niger Delta, where the government’s failure to pay its share of costs has stalled key projects.

The state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said it has agreed to borrow $2bn from ExxonMobil and $1bn from Total in the past week to kick-start development. Shell said it was close to striking a similar kind of agreement.

The tax and revenue claims stem from contracts signed in 1993 covering Shell’s huge Bonga field and ExxonMobil’s Erha development.

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