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Gulf Keystone says the company took the best decision for its shareholders

Gulf Keystone ex-chairman says was forced out, tried to lure Exxon

LONDON, April 2, 2015

The former head of oil company Gulf Keystone said he was talking to several parties, including ExxonMobil, about a rescue for the firm before being forced to quit under pressure from an investor.
Gulf Keystone, which has been hit hard by a fall in oil prices and delayed payments for crude by Kurdistan, said that chairman Simon Murray, a former chairman of commodities trader Glencore, had retired.
But Murray said he was effectively forced to quit after he disagreed with the firm's decision to raise $41 million through an equity issue at a 21 discount to the market to avoid breaching debt covenants. 
Murray said he believed the capital increase this week was a bad short-term solution and had been pushing for a longer-term option, such as an offer from investment group T5 led by former Tullow Oil chairman Pat Plunkett.
He said there had been other options on the table too.
"We had two offers. Pat Plunkett was offering a slightly complicated but interesting solution. Exxon and a Chinese company was looking at us as well. I told the board we should be looking for a long-term solution," Murray told Reuters.
"Instead the board opted for a panic-mode decision."
A spokesman for Gulf Keystone said the company believed it took the best decision for its shareholders and declined to discuss details of Murray's departure or talks with individual parties.
"It is not appropriate to comment on individual conversations, beyond saying that the company, supported by its advisers, will continue to select what it views as the best course of action in order to see it through its short-term liquidity issues, and to ensure the greatest value can be achieved for all stakeholders..." the spokesman said.
ExxonMobil, which in 2012 became the first major oil company to invest in Kurdistan despite opposition from the central government in Baghdad, declined to comment. "We never comment on potential business opportunities," a spokesman said.
The dispute between Kurdistan and Baghdad over oil export rights and payments has had far reaching implications for firms working in Kurdistan, including Gulf Keystone.
The firm is owed $200 million by Kurdistan, which has been waiting for money from Baghdad, carries a debt of $575 million and faces a liquidity squeeze ahead of an April deadline to pay $26 million to lenders.
Even before the Kurdish Regional Government left bills unpaid, Gulf Keystone had been going through turmoil.
Murray became chairman in July 2013 amid a campaign by investors M&G and Capital Group to put new directors on the board due to their concerns about corporate governance and chief executive Todd 
Kozel's large compensation package. Kozel quit in 2014.
M&G and Capital Group hold more than five percent each in Gulf Keystone, making them the second and third largest shareholders behind Barclays Wealth, according to Reuters data.
Murray said it was M&G which had asked Gulf Keystone's board in a letter to force him out if the company wanted M&G to participate in the new $41 million share issuance this week.
M&G, which agreed to subscribe to the new share issue, declined official comment.
A source familiar with the M&G strategy said the fund was convinced management changes were needed at Gulf Keystone to improve company performance.
"You don't enter into sale negotiations with the position of weakness. The company needed to address short-term liquidity problems first," the source said.
Murray said he felt different: "I said I did not want to stand in the way of receiving the money if that is how the board felt. Even though I felt this was not the way". --Reuters

Tags: ExxonMobil | Kurdistan | Chairman | Gulf Keystone |

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