OMV bags rival’s Tunisian oil and gas business

Austrian oil and gas giant OMV has taken over a competitor’s exploration activities in Tunisia.The Vienna-based company announced today (Thurs) it has transferred 610 million Euros to American firm Pioneer Natural Resources to take over its operations in the north African country. OMV said the executive board of its Tunisian subsidiary company signed contracts earlier today. The company added it expected the deal to be completed within the first three months of this year.OMV, which is quoted on the Vienna Stock Exchange’s (WBAG) Prime Market, said it hoped to “significantly improve its exploration and development opportunities” in Tunisia where it has been doing business for some years.OMV is one of the most powerful Austrian companies. Founded in 1956, it has more than 32,000 employees all over the world today. OMV manages 2,300 petrol stations in 11 European countries. Its market share in Austria ranges around 18 per cent.The company – which was previously named ÖMV – is party owned by the Republic of Austria. The government holds a 31.5 per cent interest in OMV via its Industry-Holding Stock Corporation (ÖIAG).OMV boss Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer said last month he had “no doubt” that the company will have earned more than two billion Euros in 2010. OMV has not yet published its annual business figures for the past year. It earned 1.75 billion Euros before interest and taxes (Ebit) in the first nine months of 2010.Meanwhile, a 27-member committee of high-profile businessmen criticised state prosecutors’ decision to press insider knowledge charges against Ruttenstorfer. The former Social Democratic (SPÖ) state secretary acquired 26,500 stocks of his own company in March 2009 for around 620,000 Euros.Ruttenstorfer said in an interview with magazine profil only a few days earlier that OMV will not get rid of its interest in Hungarian rival MOL in the foreseeable future. The Austrian company however pulled out of its participation in MOL by selling its stocks to Russian’s Surgutneftegas a few days later. OMV shares soared in value as analysts appreciated OMV’s decision to stop taking over MOL in full.The company chief, who will be succeeded by co-chief Gerhard Roiss regardless of the outcome of the upcoming trial, may face a suspended jail term or a fine if found guilty of insider trading. He still holds all the shares he controversially acquired in 2009. They are valued at more than 720,000 Euros at the moment.Some of Austria’s most influential entrepreneurs declared in an open letter published last month they were convinced Ruttenstorfer acted correctly. The group, who described the OMV chief as a “person of integrity”, includes Strabag boss Hans Peter Haselsteiner, UNIQA head Konstantin Klien and Telekom Austria (TA) CEO Hannes Ametsreiter.The Federal Association of Judges and State Prosecutors reacted by announcing it would could not be influenced by a “media campaign”.