Sonangol Pesquisa & Producao SA, the Angolan oil company adding exploration assets to boost output, plans to buy a stake in an offshore block from the country’s vice president.
Sonangol will purchase 15 percent of Block 21-09 from Nazaki Oil & Gaz SA, a company held by Vice President Manuel Vicente and two senior generals, according to a Feb. 28 decree allowing the sale and seen by Bloomberg this week.
Sonangol P&P, an exploration unit of Angola’s state oil producer, is snapping up assets as the nation targets output of 2 million barrels a day by 2017, an increase of more than 10 percent. The southern African country, the continent’s largest oil producer after Nigeria, is seeking to benefit from crude prices that have more than doubled since the start of 2009.
Block 21-09 is operated by Cobalt International Energy Inc. (CIE), which said in March that tests at two project wells had been “outstanding.” Production is planned for 2016.
Nazaki’s ties to Angola’s leadership prompted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to open a bribery probe into the operations of Houston-based Cobalt in 2011. Cobalt denied any wrongdoing. Angola ranks 157th out of 176 nations on Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
A separate February decree also shows Sonangol is buying 15 percent of Block 15-06 from Total SA. Luanda-based Sonangol is stepping up its search for crude after pledging to spend $8.8 billion on exploration in a decade. At both blocks, it has right of first refusal on any partner’s share in the event of a sale.
The purchase from Nazaki will give Sonangol 35 percent of Block 21, where Cobalt has a 40 percent stake and closely held Alper Oil Ltda holds 10 percent. Nazaki will retain 15 percent in 21-09.
Joao Santos, a spokesman for Sonangol in Luanda, didn’t reply to e-mails seeking comment. Lynne Hackedorn, a spokeswoman for Cobalt based in Houston, also didn’t respond. No one at Nazaki and Alper was available to comment.
Nazaki’s other owners are Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, chief of intelligence at the presidency, and Manuel Helder Vieira Dias, known as Kopelipa, head of the military bureau, incorporation documents show. The ownership was confirmed by Vicente in an interview last year with the Financial Times.
Cobalt, which is part-owned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), First Reserve Corp., Riverstone Holdings LLC, Carlyle Group LP (CG) and KERN Partners Ltd., also plans to develop the “super-size” Lontra prospect in Block 20, which it has described as the “largest four-way structure in the Kwanza Basin.”
It joins companies such as BP Plc (BP/) and ConocoPhillips in exploring below a layer of salt beneath the seabed off Africa’s coast. They’re searching for crude in the hope that the geology mirrors that off Brazil on the other side of the Atlantic, where some of the largest oilfields of the past decade were found.
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