Cheniere Chief Souki to Depart as Icahn Boosts Stake, FT Says

  • Board member Shear is LNG company's interim CEO, FT reports
  • Icahn boosted stake in Cheniere to 13.83 percent, filings show

Charif Souki.

Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg

Cheniere Energy Inc. Chief Executive Officer Charif Souki is stepping down as the head of the liquefied natural gas exporter amid activist billionaire investor Carl Icahn’s growing influence within the company, the Financial Times reported Sunday.

Souki will be replaced on an interim basis by Neal Shear, who has been on Houston-based Cheniere’s board since June 2014 and is a former head of Morgan Stanley’s commodities division, the FT said. Shear declined to comment when reached by Bloomberg News and said the company plans an announcement later Sunday evening.

Faith Parker, a spokeswoman for Cheniere, didn’t respond to telephone messages and e-mails seeking comment. Susan Gordon, a spokeswoman, for Icahn, didn’t immediately return e-mails or telephone messages.

Regulatory filings as of Dec. 8 showed Icahn boosted his stake in the company to 13.83 percent. In August, he said he planned to discuss issues including executive compensation with management after disclosing an 8.2 percent stake.

Souki, who co-founded Cheniere, has been CEO since 2002. He was the highest-paid executive in the U.S. two years ago because of the company’s stock grants, drawing lawsuits from irate investors. So far this year, he’s sold $116 million of shares, reducing his holdings by a third.

Cheniere is on track to become the first U.S. company to export liquefied natural gas from the lower 48 states, allowing cheap shale supplies to reach global consumers. It’s Sabine Pass terminal is in Louisiana.

Souki joined Cheniere’s board when it was reorganized in 1996 and took over as sole chairman in 1999 while working as an independent oil and gas investment banker, filings show. He stepped up selling in 2012 as the shares rebounded from their low of 95 cents in October 2008 at the depths of the financial crisis.

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