Gunvor Shows Interest in Afren Oil Asset Sale to Grow in Africa

Gunvor Group Ltd., the commodities trader looking to shift away from Russian crude, is interested in the African assets of insolvent oil explorer Afren Plc.

Gunvor has until Aug. 17 to submit an offer for one or more assets, Blackstone Group LP, the financial adviser to Afren’s administrators, said in a letter addressed to the trading house obtained by Bloomberg News.

Afren, whose operations in Nigeria include the 28,000-barrel-a-day Ebok field, filed for bankruptcy last month after failing to restructure an outstanding $863 million of bonds. Gunvor, among global commodity traders snapping up physical assets to complement trading operations, is cutting back exposure to Russia following European and U.S. sanctions.

Seth Pietras, a spokesman at the trading house, declined to comment. New York-based Blackstone also declined to comment.

Based in Cyprus with major operations in Geneva and Singapore, Gunvor already owns two refineries in Europe and has said it’s seeking to purchase mines, oil fields, processing plants and pipelines on four continents.

The firm has been reorganizing since Gennady Timchenko sold his 44 percent stake to fellow co-founder Torbjorn Tornqvist a day before being sanctioned by the U.S. for his ties to Vladimir Putin. Gunvor has denied any links to the president of Russia, where it was once a dominant crude trader.

Tornqvist said in a 2013 interview that Gunvor was scouting for oil assets, including in Nigeria, as valuations dropped.

The slump in crude prices has piled pressure on exploration companies as cash dwindles. Afren’s troubles multiplied last year when it was forced to fire its chief executive officer and chief operating officer for gross misconduct following a probe into unauthorized payments.

The Sunday Times reported Aug. 9 that Blackstone was hoping to sell Afren’s biggest assets by the end of this month.

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