British man involved in deal to drill for oil in Darfur

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Friday, June 10, 2005

The British TV station Channel 4 has discovered that the Sudanese government has signed a deal for a contract to drill for oil in southern Sudan, and that the key man in securing the deal is British.

Friedhelm Eronat, who until two years ago was an American citizen, secured the largest stake made in a consortium that won the drilling contract in 2003. Oil was discovered in April of this year.

Geologists have long suspected the presence of oil in the south of the Sudan. Clivenden Sudan, which Eronat personally owned in 2003, had a high level of expertise in the country's geology.

The twenty five year deal secured by Clivenden Sudan will see it pay the Sudanese government $8m in the event oil is produced. The government will also receive 70% of the profits from the oil.

In a statement to Channel 4 News, Eronat said that he is not a shareholder or officer of Cliveden Sudan, that he does not work for or financially benefit from Cliveden Sudan, and that Cliveden Sudan is not the operator of the concession, only a shareholder.

Cliveden Sudan itself said "there has been no commercial oil find in Block C [the area being explored for oil]."

Villages in Darfur 180km from the Clivenden Sudan wells have been attacked by Sudanese troops and aircraft.

Eronat became involved in the deal through Lebanese businessman Eli Calil, who has been accused of funding a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea last year (allegations denied by Calil). Calil and Eronat live near each other in the London suburb of Chelsea.

At least one rebel group in Darfur is certain the search for oil will inflame the conflict in Darfur. The Justice and Equality Movement wants exploration to stop until peace is established.

A member of the JEM, Ahmad Hussein, told Channel 4 News: "So when they say they discover oil in Darfur, who is going to benefit from that? Are they the people of Darfur? Of course not. Absolutely not, the only beneficiaries is the ruling elite and ruling minority of the regime."

Eronat changed his nationality from American to British in October 2003, shortly before the deal was signed. Under US law, he could have faced up to ten years imprisonment and/or fines of $500,000, due to US sanctions on Sudan.

The UK government has been at the forefront of efforts to try and halt the crisis, with international development minister Hilary Benn making a statement to the house of commons yesterday after a visit to the region. He said: "I visited the Kalma camp in South Darfur and the El Meshtel and Abu Shouk camps in North Darfur where tens of thousands of people are facing a precarious existence. I spoke to men and women whose homes have been destroyed, villages burned, and whose communities have been the victims of killings, looting and rape.

"We are in a race against time in Darfur, and the UK remains committed to doing all that it can to help those affected and to work for a just and lasting peace for its people."

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