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Libya oil chief quits, says Parliament source

Shokri Ghanem has left his post as chairperson of Libya’s state oil firm, a source in the Libyan Parliament confirmed, handing a setback to foreign oil majors who saw him as a steady partner in an unpredictable country.

Firms including BP and ExxonMobil have invested millions of dollars in Libya, home to Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, but they operate in an environment where sudden shifts in government policy can inflict huge losses.

Asked about media reports that Ghanem had resigned, the senior source in the General People’s Congress or Parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: ”He is gone.”

Ghanem, a former Libyan prime minister and official at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (Opec) headquarters, could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. The state oil firm NOC has made no official statement about his departure from the post.

The only official reference to a change in management at NOC was a statement on the company’s internet site about a September 9 meeting with a visiting German delegation which referred to Azzam al Messallati as the acting chairperson.

Until now, Messallati’s official title had been member of the NOC administrative board but he was also Ghanem’s de facto number two in the company and is viewed by foreign oil industry experts as one of Ghanem’s closest allies.

John Hamilton, a contributing editor at industry newsletter African Energy, said Messallati had been in charge of joint ventures for NOC — a role which should have given him experience of working with foreign majors.

It was not clear if Messallati was chosen as a caretaker until a long-term replacement for Ghanem is found or if he will keep the job.

Enthusiasm tempered
Ghanem was, in effect, Libya’s energy minister and represented the country at meetings of Opec.

He was co-signatory to many of the investment deals with foreign oil majors who rushed to capitalise on Libya’s emergence from years of international isolation and the lifting of sanctions.

However, foreign investors’ initial enthusiasm has been tempered by modest results from exploration wells and concerns about the risks of dealing with Libya’s government.

Some investors say the treatment of Canadian energy exploration firm Verenex, whose shares fell sharply after Libya denied approval for a takeover by an arm of China National Petroleum Corp., underlined Libya’s unpredictability.

Hamilton said Ghanem wanted the Verenex sale to go ahead but was over-ruled by Libyan Prime Minister al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, sharpening a long-running dispute between the two.

”There is a good chance that this [Ghanem’s departure] is connected to the Verenex issue,” Hamilton said.

Oliver Miles, a former British ambasador to Libya, said the change in NOC chairperson did not necessarily signify a policy shift by the government.

”The nature of Libya is that they play musical chairs all the time,” said Miles.

”They [government officials] never stay in the same job for very very long and I suppose that’s part of Gaddafi’s strategy for keeping everybody where he wants them.” — Reuters

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