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Oil Search executives privately commented to attendees after the AGM closed that "... The cost of O’Neill Government corruption is high, estimated to be several billion kina a year. PNG has a lot of corruption issues …" and others in similar vein.The deal, in which Union Bank of Switzerland loaned PNG $A1.3 billion (K3 billion) to buy a 10% shareholding in Oil Search, has now been unwound, at crippling financial cost to the near-bankrupt Pacific Island nation.
It is also facing the prospect of the company being taken over by a corporation much less likely to be as sympathetic to the national interest and much less likely to engage in illegal conduct with the Government.
Over the years a shadowy network of corporate links has been traced, involving Oil Search, a PNG petroleum company, Interoil Ltd, an international resources investment company, Pac LNG Operations Ltd, and a small PNG company, Insurance Partners PNG Ltd.
Central to the allegations that the deal was corrupt, and that O’Neill benefitted personally, is the extraordinary price paid to Pac LNG by Oil Search for a slice of the action in the large Elk-Antelope gasfield in PNG’s Gulf Province.
They were played out over almost 10 years, between 2008 and now, and fall broadly within the corruption cost pattern.
The precursor Oil Search deal was arranged during the Somare years, as part of a $A1.7 billion Government borrowing from Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Corporation to buy the State’s share in the PNG LNG Project.