Minister says helped in Aramco deal, Petronas denies pressure!

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In an interview with Malay Mail published today, Petronas downstream chief executive officer and group executive vice president Md Arif Mahmood denied rumours the oil giant was forced into a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Aramco in the Pengerang Integrated Complex’s (PIC) Rapid project.

However, the controversy is left wide open after Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan said he was at the right place and the right time when the US$7 billion deal with Saudi Aramco did not progress as expected.

This was reported by Malaysia Kini on the 25th March.

However, opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Rafizi Ramli asked the Minister to clarify as to how his presence and participation at some stage in the talks between the two oil companies could not be called as ‘interference’.

Rafizi said the report by Malaysia Kini is indicative of a direct interference in the talks, adding that it raised two salient questions:

1. Did Abdul Rahman force Petronas to change its opinion on the deal?

2. Why did Aramco changed their mind and concluded the deal with Petronas while the deal was at a dead end and cancelled?

Abdul Rahman said the prime minister had ordered him to Riyadh at the end of 2016, after negotiations for the deal, which had gone on for around two years, were progressing very slowly.

Wall Street Journal, The Journal, had in January broken the news that the Petronas-Aramco talks broke down after the two oil-giants could not agree on the terms.

However, Abdul Rahman said Aramco was worried about Malaysia’s economic situation, which would have meant they were not keen to strike a deal with Petronas at that stage.

He also said, according to Malaysia Kini, Malaysia is lucky since the deal signed this month during the Saudi Arabian King Salmaan’s visit to Kuala Lumpur, was “sort of a government-to-government (negotiation) as Saudi Aramco is wholly-owned by the Saudi Arabian government while Petronas is wholly-owned by the Malaysian government.”

“Therefore I, as the minister, had the opportunity to be the referee for both sides. Because I was there at the right time, the right place, I managed to reduce the gap of misunderstanding,” he said at the Peneraju Professional Chartered Financial Analyst Annual Summit in Shah Alam, reported Malaysia Kini.

Nevertheless Petronas denied any pressure was borne on the company to sign the deal.

Arif said the Malaysian unit was “never forced into the joint venture” and had always been eyeing a partner like Aramco, reported Malay Mail.

Arif also dismissed as “not credible” reports which said that senior Petronas officials were against the joint-venture.