UK oil firm drilling offshore Malta in backroom dealings with Libya

UK oil firm Heritage Oil is reportedly engaged in backroom dealings in Libya, not for oil but for security contracts around installations, which have however been rejected by the NTC.

London and Toronto listed Heritage Oil as holding a production-sharing agreement with the Maltese government for offshore exploration in Areas 2 and 7 since 2007, but has not yet drilled the areas despite a series of seismic studies which reportedly ascertained “a variety of prospects in Lower Eocene and Cretaceous carbonates.”

Last June, the company said that its exploration programme in Malta was “progressing,” but meanwhile it was discovered to be secretly scouting Libya amid the turmoil of a revolution since last April.

Heritage Oil however, was not looking for oil prospects, but something alternatively lucrative: private security.

The company is headed by chief executive Tony Buckingham, a former SAS officer who, according to the ‘Petroleum Economist’, is closely connected with Sandline International, a controversial private security company that shut down in 2004, and Executive Outcomes, another security firm.

Heritage Oil’s firm links to the private security sector were revealed both in London and in Benghazi over the past few days, as it transpired that it attempted to lobby British foreign secretary William Hague for support in securing a multi-million security-contract with Libya’s NTC.

The NTC however has so far rejected Heritage Oil’s offer on the basis that it does not want to allow any private contractors to operate on Libyan territory and cause the security mess that developed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

British national Christian Sweeting is Heritage Oil’s man in Libya, and has shuttled between Malta, Benghazi and London over the past months in a bid to secure the necessary friendships with the NTC that could eventually secure a lucrative contract.

According to reports, Sweeting corresponded with William Hague to “expedite UK visas for four Libyans” while also providing the British foreign secretary with intelligence on the developments in the rebel held east of Libya.

Sweeting and Hague also met in March at the exclusive Carlton Club in London and later exchanged emails about Heritage and Libya.

But Heritage Oil’s main recruit in Libya has been identified as 62-year-old John Holmes, known to be a highly decorated former SAS commando and retired British army Major General.

Nicknamed as the ‘super-fixer’, Holmes was identified by Reuters last Friday as the man who has made a number of proposals on behalf of Heritage Oil, including oil field security to help protect the Sirte basin from attacks.

Holmes is said to be connected to another man identified as Simon Mann –  who like Heritage Oil boss Tony Buckingham, worked for Executive Outcomes. In 2009 Mann was freed from an Equitorial Guinea jail after serving one year of a 34-year sentence for his role in a failed 2004 coup. The story had embroiled Mark Thatcher, son of the former British prime minister.

But Holmes, who was spotted at the Tibetsi Hotel in Benghazi while refusing to talk to anybody who approaches him, is mostly known for his close ties with the US military. He worked for retired US general and one-time Presidential challenger Wesley Clark.

When contacted, Heritage Oil refused to comment on any of its operations in Libya and the men reportedly representing its interests there.

But the plot thickened further when Heritage Oil sent a letter to William Hague asking him to “swiftly approve” visas for four NTC contacts, named as: Mohammed El Alagi, today the NTC’s minister for interior and justice and who recently travelled to Malta with interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril for talks with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi; Judge Khamal El Houni, known to be a liason between the NTC and the military; Ahmed El Kawafi, chief of staff to El Houni, and interpreter Akram El Kawafi. All these men were to visit the UK as guests of Heritage Oil.

The correspondence has enraged current NTC finance minister Ali Tarhouni,  who is also responsible for oil matters in Libya at the moment, as Sweeting allegedly tells William Hague that he now had another contact with “overriding responsibility” entrusted to Tarhouni.

A certain Mustafa El Houni – a returned exile from Spain – may be favoured to be appointed minister for oil in Libya as the new interim government is announced, but so far, the NTC is describing El Houni as an advisor.

He is currently accompanied by an armed escort of foreign nationals, which some say are paid for by an “oil company.”

As Heritage Oil awaits its fate for a lucrative security contract, the new chief at the Libyan National Oil Company Nuri Berruien has already made it clear that their offer was “not acceptable.”

Heritage Oil is reportedly banking to cash in on a letter it had received in 2008 from the then Gaddafi minister for oil and chairman of the NOC Shokri Ghanem – as revealed by MaltaToday – who warned it not to conduct operations in a maritime area which Libya claims as part of its own continental shelf, referring to Area 7 granted by the Maltese government.

The letter called for an immediate ‘cease and desist’ in its south Malta operations adding the threat:  “We hold you responsible under Libyan and international law for any activities you may conduct in that area and we reserve all rights to act both de facto and de jure to protect our interest in the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya territories.”

With this letter in hand, Heritage Oil is insisting with the NTC that it had no previous association with the deposed regime, as Sweeting informs William Hague that “those nations [and by association individual companies] that have not been supportive of the revolution and who have been corruptly close to Gaddafi in the past will not be awarded contracts in the future of Libya.”

This story appeared in MaltaToday

Beda jberraq !!