Chad suspends 3 ministers over oil deals
By MADJIASRA NAKO, Associated Press WriterSun Aug 27, 4:58 PM ET
The president suspended the oil minister and two other Cabinet members who negotiated deals with two foreign oil firms that he ordered out of the central African country over a tax dispute, officials said Sunday.
President Idriss Deby suspended the three ministers on Saturday after ordering the two foreign firms — Chevron Corp. and Petronas — out of Chad for failing to pay taxes, government officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Deby has accused the companies of failing to pay $450 million in taxes and said the two firms — which are part of an oil production consortium led by Exxon Mobil — should immediately begin making plans to leave.
It was unclear how Chad might carry out the expulsion order, which Deby announced in a message broadcast on state-run radio Saturday. Chevron and Petronas have a skeleton staff of only three in the African country.
If the two companies are evicted, Chad could turn for help to China, which is seeking deals with oil-producing countries in Africa and is heavily involved with neighboring Sudan, analysts said.
Political scientist Roland Marchal, an expert in Chadian affairs, said Deby is unlikely to go through with the expulsion.
"Deby is playing both the nationalist card because he is saying that foreign companies are taking Chad’s money, which is popular, and also that if these two companies are not flexible enough to come to a new agreement where Chad receives more money, then Deby can always talk to the Chinese," he said by telephone from Paris.
Oil Minister Mahmat Hassan Nasser, Planning Minister Mahmat Ali Hassan and Livestock Minister Mockhtar Moussa were suspended because they negotiated the terms of the agreements with Chevron and Petronas, the officials said. The ministers made no public statements Sunday.
Petronas said Sunday that it had not received notification of the order. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also said Hassan Merican, the president of Petronas, was trying to obtain more information from the company’s office in Chad.
"Let Petronas get the information on how this could have happened," Abdullah was quoted as saying by Malaysia’s national news agency, Bernama.
California-based Chevron said in a statement Saturday that it had not been behind on any tax payments and had not been told it must leave Chad.
"Chevron has not received any official notification from the Republic of Chad government asking Chevron to leave the country over tax issues," the statement said. "However, Chevron has been in full compliance with all of our tax obligations."
Mark D. Boudreaux, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, told The Associated Press by e-mail that neither his company, nor affiliate Esso Chad has been asked to leave the country.
Chad’s largest labor organization backed Deby’s move, saying the country was being exploited by foreign oil companies, state-owned radio reported. However, opposition groups said on another radio station that only members of Deby’s tribe — whose heartland is in the oil-rich north of the country — benefit from oil production.
Oil and livestock are the mainstays of impoverished Chad’s economy, and the fields overseen by Chevron and Petronas account for some 60 percent of the country’s oil production.
Deby said Chad, which is one of Africa’s newest oil producers and is setting up a national oil company, would assume their production responsibilities.
Exxon Mobil, along with Chevron and Petronas, had agreed to finance a $4.2 billion underground pipeline to deliver oil from landlocked Chad to the Atlantic port of Kribi, in Cameroon.
Chad receives about 12.5 percent on each barrel exported by the consortium, which is estimated at $120 million per year for the next 25 years.
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