Aopi before UBS inquiry

Former Oil Search Limited general manager, Gerea Aopi, appeared before the UBS Royal Commission yesterday.

Among queries raised, the members of the inquiry questioned Aopi on Oil Search’s interest to buy shares from the Elk-Antelope project. 

Sir Salamo Injia questioned when Oil Search Limited had an interest in purchasing shares in Elk-Antelope, which he replied the deal was around the period between 2017 and 2018.

The inquiry noted several correspondences between the executives of Oil Search and former finance secretary Diari Vele, before the loan was acquired and the government’s decision to purchase shares from Oil Search. 

Under the deal, PNG borrowed $1.2 billion from UBS to buy a 10 percent stake in ASX-listed Oil Search. The highly speculative transaction went bad when Oil Search shares fell sharply in late 2014 and PNG was forced to sell out.

Aopi said the 10 percent equity share in Oil Search was put forward by the then Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill.

When questioned if Pac LNG, headed by Carlos Sivalley, had an input in fixing the 10 percent equity share price, Aopi responded that he had no knowledge of it.  

Aopi will appear again in the inquiry on the 15th of July.

On Tuesday, former Oil Search boss, Peter Botten, appeared via zoom at the inquiry where was questioned on Oil Search’s involvement with IPIC, the petroleum investment company.

Botten, when giving evidence, said: “Unfortunately, investment banks sometimes are particularly greedy. And unfortunately, in this case, I think that might be an appropriate characterisation.”

The UBS has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, given Botten was their client at the time.

Jemimah Sukbat