Carl Icahn Claims Responsibility for Ousting Former Cheniere CEO

  • Souki had `harebrained ideas,' the billionaire investor says
  • Replacement expected to be named by the board before summer

Carl Icahn.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Billionaire shareholder Carl Icahn said he was instrumental in the ouster of Charif Souki as chief executive officer of Cheniere Energy Inc., and he cited Souki’s "harebrained ideas" as the reason.

Souki was a co-founder of Cheniere, the Houston-based company that’s the first to export U.S. shale gas. He was removed as CEO by the board in December, just two months before the first shipment of shale gas set sail. At the time, Souki said he lost his job because he planned to speed up development of liquefied natural gas projects, a strategy opposed by Icahn.

QuickTake Liquified Natural Gas

“I was very instrumental in getting him out -- no question about it,” Icahn said in an interview on CNBC on Thursday. “I take full responsibility for it.”

This is the first time that Icahn confirmed his role in the leadership change, and his comments signal the influence he may wield in selecting the exporter’s next leader. Neither Souki nor a spokeswoman for Cheniere immediately responded to a request for comment.

In an April 25 interview with Bloomberg TV, Cheniere’s interim CEO, Neal Shear, said he expects the board to announce a replacement before summer. Since February, the company has shipped six more cargoes of LNG overseas.

In the future, Cheniere needs a leader who will “be watching over how you build,” Icahn said in the CNBC interview.

‘This is Insane’

Souki was “taking $80 million out, and any stock he could sell he sold," he said. “So here he is doing this, going in with one idea after another. I looked at this and said, ‘This is insane. This is the problem.’”

Within weeks of Souki’s departure, Cheniere scaled back its capital spending plan to about $30 billion from more than $50 billion, ending plans to partner with Parallax Enterprises LLC to build more liquefaction capacity, according to company presentations.

Souki had “all these -- I hate to say it -- harebrained ideas,” including buying oil companies, Icahn said. “I’ll tell you know what he knew -- he knew how to go almost bankrupt, because that’s what happened to him.”

Icahn said he had only spoken to Souki once or twice by phone. 

In late February, Souki and Martin Houston, former chief operating officer of BG Group Plc, announced they formed Tellurian Investments in Houston to build mid-scale natural gas and liquefaction and export projects on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Icahn held a 13.87 percent stake in Cheniere at the end of 2015. The shares are up 3.7 percent this year to $38.62 after plunging 47 percent last year.

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