Russian billionaire gains offshore foothold

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Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman has suddenly emerged as a major player in several offshore Norwegian oil fields, after taking over RWE Dea of Germany. RWE boasts itself that it has participated in five of the most important oil discoveries on the Norwegian Continental Shelf in recent years.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Thursday that Norway’s Oil and Energy Ministry has ruled that RWE Dea can retain its offshore licenses even though the company has been bought up by Fridman’s LetterOne Holdings. Great Britain, on the other hand, has refused to let Fridman take over control of five British gas fields, because of the current sanctions against Russia. A spokesman for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, however, said the sanctions that Norway also is recognizing “are not relevant” for foreign companies’ participation in concession rounds on the Norwegian shelf.

Arild Moe, senior researcher at the Fritjof Nansen Institute, said Fridman is also involved in the license on the Alta prospect in the Barents Sea, where Lundin Petroleum of Sweden recently made a major oil and gas discovery. Oil Minister Tord Lien also told foreign correspondents in Oslo this week that Russian companies will be treated just like all other companies in bidding for future licenses.

Fridman has already been active in Norwegian business through his often difficult relations with Telenor regarding Russian mobile telephone licenses and their involvement in VimpelCom. Now Fridman is active offshore, but Moe noted that RWE Dea is regarded as a well-run company with projects in many other countries, not just Norway. Moe described Fridman as “one of the biggest oligarchs in the Russian economy … who hasn’t let himself be instructed by the Kremlin. He’s not among those targeted by the US’ and EU’s sanctions and “isn’t seen as belonging to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s inner circles,” Moe told Dagsavisen.

newsinenglish.no staff