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Gulf Keystone AGM: ‘Battle in Bermuda’

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Bermuda will be at the centre of a power struggle involving a more than $2 billion-dollar international oil giant when shareholders converge on the Island this week for the company’s annual general meeting.

Gulf Keystone Petroleum is registered in Bermuda, though its “office” in Hamilton’s Cumberland House is actually that of law firm Cox Hallett Wilkinson, which also answers its phones.

As a report, headlined “Battle in Bermuda”, in London’s

Independent newspaper put it, the battle involves: “billions of barrels of Kurdish oil, eight-figure pay packages and some big egos, including that of a retired chief of the British Army”.

Gulf Keystone’s annual meeting is in Bermuda on Thursday and it’s reported that “genius tycoon” and former Gulf Keystone executive Jeremy Asher, among other colourful players, plans to fly to Bermuda for the vote.

The Fund manager M&G Investments, a five percent shareholder, wants to put four non-executive directors on the board, including Mr Asher, Gulf Keystone’s former deputy chairman.

He controls 1.7 percent.

“They call themselves “reforming” shareholders, rather than dissidents, and say the company is suffering because its share-price slump limits its options for expansion and investment,” the Independent says.

They want greater scrutiny Todd Kozel, “the flamboyant American founder and well-paid chief executive of Gulf Keystone, who earned $22 million last year and $13 million this year. The company’s stock has soared since he floated it on London’s Alternative Investment Market in 2004. At one point last year, its value was close to £4 billion on the strength of a huge oil find in Kurdistan, part of northern Iraq.”

But the Independent says the company’s value has more than halved since then amid legal rows and criticism of Mr Kozel’s pay.

Gulf Keystone’s board includes new chairman Simon Murray, a former French Foreign Legionnaire, and the independent director Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, a former head of the British Army.

The board publicly opposed the plan for the four non-executives in a circular sent to shareholders on Monday.

A source close to Gulf Keystone has reportedly said: “The real agenda here is about a group of people trying to take creeping control of the board.”

M&G, whose fund manager Tom Dobell oversees the shareholding in Gulf Keystone, denied this, saying: “At no point has M&G tried to interfere or take control of the board,” said a spokesman, adding that it just wanted four “truly independent non-executive directors”. Their proposed candidates are John Bell, Philip Dimmock and Thomas Shull as well as Mr Asher, a savvy City veteran who also chairs another Aim oil explorer, Tower Resources.

The Independent says: “The message is clear: Gulf Keystone is suggesting that Mr Asher, who left the board in 2010 after a bust-up, has a personal grudge. Those close to Gulf Keystone also claim that Mr Asher cannot be truly independent as he holds a 1.7 percent stake.

“Friends of Mr Asher, who plans to go to Bermuda for the vote, insist he only cares about the best interests of the company, and that M&G, part of the insurance giant Prudential, is hardly a patsy. They are not opposed to Gulf Keystone appointing other non-executive directors to its board.”

There was talk befroe the weekend that a peace deal was imminent.

“One suggestion was that just Mr Asher could be named to the board, but that proposal apparently failed to satisfy him and the M&G camp, which is thought to have close to a majority of shareholders’ support,” the newspaper said.

Bermuda bound are Mr Kozel, 46, who co-founded Gulf Keystone in 2001. He reportdely went into northern Iraq to negotiate with local Kurds about oil exploration after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Mr Asher, 55, has multiple oil business interests and chairs Tower Resources. He was deputy chairman of Gulf Keystone until 2010, when he fell out with Mr Kozel, but still controls a 1.7 percent stake. He ran the oil and trading business for notorious Marc Rich in the 1980s at the company that would become Glencore. Mr Asher, who passed his A-levels at the age of 15, studied at London School of Economics and Harvard Business School.

Headed to Bermuda: Former Gulf Keystone executive Jeremy Asher.
Bermuda-registered: Gulf Keystone lists its Bermuda address as Cumberland House.

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Published July 22, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated July 21, 2013 at 4:09 pm)

Gulf Keystone AGM: ‘Battle in Bermuda’

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