Norway wealth fund mulls selling oil firms that work in E.Guinea

Wed Apr 24, 2013 4:43pm BST

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* Fund looking into firms active in Equatorial Guinea

* Fund had $2.71 bln invested in Exxon at end-2012

* Fund is 10th-largest investor in Exxon

* Also invested in Marathon Oil and Hess

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO, April 24 (Reuters) - Norway's sovereign wealth fund is looking into selling off shares in oil firms that work in Equatorial Guinea, where oil revenue does nothing to relieve abject poverty, the fund's ethics council said, a list that includes Exxon Mobil.

The Norwegian Pension Fund Global was Exxon Mobil's tenth-largest shareholder at end-2012 with some 16 billion crowns ($2.7 billion) worth of shares, or a stake of 0.81 percent.

The fund, whose investments totalled $725 billion on Wednesday, invests Norway's revenues from oil and gas production for future generations. Exxon Mobil was its tenth-largest equity holding at end-2012, according to its annual report.

"We are looking into the oil companies in which we hold shares and which are active in Equatorial Guinea," Ola Mestad, the head of the fund's ethics council, said on Wednesday.

"The production of the country's dominant natural resource appears to enrich only the country's elite while the living conditions of the population are amongst the worst in the world," the council said in its annual report.

The fund has frequently excluded companies for what it deems to be unethical behaviour based on the recommendations of its ethics council.

Mestad declined to name the specific companies being considered in the case of Equatorial Guinea or say how long the process could take.

EXXON, MARATHON, HESS

A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil in Norway confirmed the company was active in Equatorial Guinea and that statements she had made to a local daily newspaper were correct.

"To operate honestly and ethically is one of the most important things that we do," spokeswoman Kristin Kragseth was cited as saying by the Aftenposten on Wednesday.

"Regardless of where we are in the world, it is important to us to maintain high ethical standards, follow rules and regulations and respects local culture. We do that in Equatorial Guinea as we do in Norway and all the other countries we operate in."

Kragseth did not immediately respond to requests for further comment, and U.S. Exxon officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

U.S. energy companies Marathon Oil and Hess Corp also operate fields in Equatorial Guinea. The oil fund owned 0.76 percent of Marathon Oil and 0.69 percent of Hess at the end of 2012, according to Reuters data.

Officials at both Marathon Oil and Hess could not immediately be reached for comment.

Equatorial Guinea is nominally one of Africa's richest countries with a GDP per capita of more than $27,000 per year, according to the World Bank, putting it ahead of Portugal and just below Spain. Even so, much of the 720,000 population lives in deep poverty.

The country was ranked among "the worst of the worst" civil liberty abusers in a 2012 survey by democracy group Freedom House. President Teodor Obiang Nguema has been in power in the tiny central African state for more than three decades, and his son is wanted in both the United States and France on corruption charges.

The Norwegian fund's ethics council makes its recommendations to Norway's finance ministry, which has ultimate responsibility for the fund.

The fund last excluded The Babcock & Wilcox Co. and Jacobs Engineering Group Plc in January, citing their involvement in the production of nuclear weapons.

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