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25 Aug 2017   03:10:21 AM   Friday BdST A- A A+ Print this E-mail this

HC scraps gas deals with Canadian firm Niko

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The High Court scrapped two gas deals with Canada-based oil-company Niko Resources and ordered confiscation of all its assets in Bangladesh for causing huge damage through gas-field blowouts.

In its rulings Thursday the court also told the state not to pay Niko any money it owes to the company, until the two lawsuits -- one for the 2005 gas blowout and the other on corruption -- are settled.

Niko signed two deals in 2003 and 2006 to explore and sell natural gas to Bangladesh.

It signed a joint-venture agreement with state-owned Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company or BAPEX. The other was a purchase and sales agreement with Petrobangla, the government`s oil and gas corporation.

The court`s rulings came over a petition filed by the Consumers Association of Bangladesh or CAB. In May 2016, CAB filed a petition challenging the legality of the deals, when the court halted the deals.

It also had issued a rule then asking why the deals will not be cancelled.

The Secretary of the power, energy and mineral resources ministry, BAPEX managing director, Petrobangla chairman, Niko`s Canadian and Bangladesh chapters were ordered to come up with explanations.

On Thursday, the court announced its decision after holding a hearing over that rule, and it declared the deals illegal and ordered attachment of Niko assets.

The court observed in its verdict that it was a `fact` that Niko resorted to corrupt practices in 2003 in signing the joint-venture deal with BAPEX.

"Niko Bangladesh had then signed a $4 million deal with its local agent Kashem Sharif, who was later appointed chairman of Niko Bangladesh.”

"It`s also a fact that the then BNP-Jamaat alliance government`s state minister for energy AKM Mosharraf Hossain was bribed for awarding the job. Niko maintains that it was not a bribe, a gift. But this gift is a violation of the law in Bangladesh," reports quoted the court as saying.

In 2003, the joint venture between Niko and BAPEX was awarded the contract to develop gas-fields in the southeastern Feni and northeastern Sunamganj`s Chhatak. Niko owned 80 percent stakes in the venture.

In 2005, explosions rocked the Tengratila gas-field in Sunamganj twice on Jan 5 and Jun 24, causing damage to the gas reserves and harming the local residents and their livelihoods.

Petrobangla sued Niko for a Tk 7.46 billion compensation for the damages while the government stopped paying Niko for the gas it was supplying from Feni.

Niko moved the International Court of Arbitration and secured a verdict in its favour, which ordered Bangladesh to pay Niko Tk 2.16 billion with interest as dues.

According to media reports, Niko attempted to close its Bangladesh operations by selling off its stakes in the Bangura gas-field in southeastern Comilla, but failed as Petrobangla objected.

Following the blasts in Tengratila gas-field, bribery allegations surfaced against the then state minister, Hossain, who had to step down from office in June 2005.

Later, Niko admitted in a Canadian court that it had given the minister a $200,000 SUV and an additional $5,000 for his trips abroad.

Niko had been fined by $9.5 million for resorting to corrupt practices by the Canadian court.

In 2007, the graft watchdog in Bangladesh sued BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, who was the prime minister from 2001 to 2006, on a charge of causing the state a loss of Tk 137 billion.
 
A Dhaka court is yet to frame charges in the case.
 
The ruling Awami League chief, Sheikh Hasina, now the prime minister, was also sued by the Anti-Corruption Commission over the Niko deals in 2007, but in 2010 the High Court scrapped the case, the reports said.

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