Sector News

Schlumberger in talks to buy back former Iranian unit

January 22, 2016

Schlumberger Ltd., the world’s largest oil-field services company, is in talks to buy back its former Iranian unit, Well Services of Iran, said the chief of the ex-subsidiary.

In an interview, Siamak Javid, managing director of Well Services of Iran, didn’t disclose how much Schlumberger was offering, or how advanced the talks were. He said it was too early to say if the talks would succeed.

A Schlumberger spokesman said “we typically do not discuss [merger and acquisition] opportunities.”

As Schlumberger prepared to exit Iran in 2010, along with other western companies, it sold Well Services of Iran to Nima Energy Ltd., a Hong Kong-based holding company.

Nima Energy didn’t return a request for comment.

The potential deal would be among the first to emerge since western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program were lifted last weekend. Iran is attempting to lure energy services companies back to kick-start its oil industry as it tries to resume exports to Europe.

Schlumberger’s agreement to sell Well Services of Iran had language that implied it would have first rights to buy the company back when sanctions were lifted.

Mr. Javid and a person familiar with the matter said Nima has tried to sell Well Services to other companies as well.

Well Services of Iran has grown since Schlumberger sold it and competition from western companies in Iran disappeared. It now has a sizable portfolio of contracts in Iran.

Schlumberger, a multinational company with headquarters in Houston, Paris and The Hague, has a controversial history in Iran.

As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice last year, a Schlumberger subsidiary agreed to pay $232.7 million in March 2015 and plead guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

According to U.S. officials, the Texas-based unit facilitated the sales of drilling equipment to Iran and Sudan from 2004 to 2010, using methods that sidestepped sanctions and took steps to disguise the transactions, such as referring to Iran as “Northern Gulf” in emails.

It remains unclear whether Schlumberger and other companies with American ties will be able to return to Iran. Several layers of American sanctions remain on Iran over terrorism, human rights and weapons issues, and dollar transactions with the Islamic Republic are prohibited.

“Schlumberger is evaluating the recent change in the law, along with our obligation under its agreement with the Justice Department,” the Schlumberger spokesman said.

By Benoit Faucon

Source: Wall Street Journal

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