MOSCOW, December 4 (RIA Novosti) – Authorities in Uzbekistan are carrying out checks into an international energy company operating in the Central Asian nation over suspicions that it illegally appropriated crude oil, a source familiar with the situation told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.
The source stated that Uzbek authorities are accusing Tethys Petroleum, which is based in the British Crown dependency of Guernsey, of stealing oil belonging to the state and worth between $30 million and $40 million.
If the investigation is confirmed, Tethys would become only the latest in a long line of international investors to come under intimidating pressure from authorities in Uzbekistan.
RIA Novosti’s source said Uzbek authorities in November detained Bakhrom Salakhitdinov, identified on his LinkedIn profile as the head of the Uzbekistan business unit at Tethys, in connection with the ongoing investigation.
Tethys spokeswoman Jennifer McDonald said in an emailed comment to RIA Novosti that the company worked within the laws of Uzbekistan and that allegations made against two of its employees were entirely without foundation.
“We are in contact with the relevant authorities in order to reach an understanding of the reasons for the allegations and a satisfactory resolution of the situation as soon as possible,” McDonald said. “We are exploring all appropriate means to protect the company’s interests and ensure the safety of our employees in Uzbekistan.”
McDonald said Tethys’ oil production activities were continuing as normal, despite the investigation.
Tethys, which focuses its activities on Central Asia, is currently engaged on several fronts in Uzbekistan, where it has operated since 2009.
It is currently implementing a project to boost output of hydrocarbons at the North Urtabulak field in the central Kashkadarya province.
The field currently produces about 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, according to a company press release issued in May.
In November 2011, Uzbek state energy company Uzbekneftegaz and Tethys signed a protocol of intent envisioning new contracts to increase production at the Chegara and West Kruk fields, also in the Kashkadarya province.
Tethys chief executive David Robson told business news website Proactive Investors in January that the North Urtabulak field had gone into decline and that operations were increasingly to be focused on Chegara.
“Our new Chegara field to the south … is in its very early stages of development with a lot more potential. We are waiting for a final presidential decree to move ahead,” Robson told Proactive Investors.
Tethys has since started operations at Chegara after receiving presidential approval for a 25-year production enhancement contract to develop the field along with local partners, Uzneftegazdobycha and Uznefteproduct.
Oil output at the field is expected to reach 340,000 tons annually.
Separately, Tethys and Uzbekneftegaz in May signed a protocol of intent on exploration at another block in the Ustyurt basin in northern Uzbekistan.
Numerous international companies have been driven out of Uzbekistan by probes ostensibly aimed at uncovering fraud, but which many observers see as takeover bids by elites close to the authoritarian former Soviet nation’s rulers.
Previous examples of foreign-owned businesses in Uzbekistan that have come under investigation and later shut down or sold off at below-market prices include gold producers Newmont Mining and Oxus Gold, and Russian mobile telecommunications giant MTS.
Updates with comment from company