By Michel Cousins.
Tripoli, 28 November:
Almost total confusion surrounds Libya’s involvement in French attempts to save the Petroplus oil refinery in north-west . . .[restrict]France following a series of contradictory statements in both Libya and France today, Wednesday.
The refinery went bankrupt at the beginning of the year. The French government has been trying to find buyers to keep refinery the Petit-Couronne refinery in Normandy which employs some 470 workers afloat.
Earlier today, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Libya had decided not to invest in it. The deal had fallen through, he told France Inter radio today, Wednesday.
“It’s too bad, because the idea that a country like Libya that produces a lot of crude could have a partnership with a refinery in France was good”, he was quoted by Bloomberg as saying.
However, another statement today, by LIA president Mohsen Darja, indicated that that Fabius was jumping the gun.
“A team will travel next week [to France] to study the industrial data of the refinery and draw up a report, on the basis of which we will take a decision,” Darja was quoted by AFP as saying.
In Paris, French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg also contradicted his cabinet colleague’s statement, as did the office of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
“The Libyans signed a confidentiality agreement yesterday,” Montebourg said. “This does not mean they will buy but they are studying (it),” he explained.
According to Reuters Ayrault’s office confirmed a confidentiality agreement had been signed with LIA.
It quoted government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem saying that “the minister (Montebourg) has received a letter of intent from the Libyan fund and received yesterday some additional information. He is doing checks today on the validity of these intentions and additional information”.
Earlier this month, both Fabius and Montebourg, who is leading a high-profile campaign to save failing French industries and jobs, flew to Tripoli to discuss a potential Libya rescue operation by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) for the 154,000-barrel-a-day refinery, France’s oldest.
The confusion is not limited to France.
On Monday, there was a statement, reputedly from LIA, vehemently denying it was ever interested in taking over the refinery. The news was not true, it said. It had never set up a feasibility study or looked into the profitability of such an acqusition. It would never invest in non-profitable projects, it insisted.
The French, however, say it was LIA which first raised the possibility of investing in the refinery. When in Tripoli on 12 November, Montebourg said that LIA was in talks about buying it.
Observers in Tripoli put the contradictory LIA statements down to infighting with in the sovereign wealth fund. “There is total chaos in LIA”, said one.
That, however, does not explain the contradictory statements from the French government.
There are two other offers for the refinery, from Dubai-based NetOil and Hong Kong-based Alafandi Petroleum Group but these have so far been rejected. The refinery was to have closed on 5 November but a French court has postponed it to 5 February to allow further time for a rescue attempt. [/restrict]