Ex-Cricketer Aims to Bowl out His Critics; CITY FOCUS

Daily Mail (London), April 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Ex-Cricketer Aims to Bowl out His Critics; CITY FOCUS


Byline: JAMES QUINN

THE former England cricketer Phil Edmonds is flying out to South Sudan this weekend to dot the i's and cross the t's on the most important deal of his business career.

If all goes well, trading in White Nile - the controversial oil explorer he heads - could resume as early as next week.

After more than two months of near constant probes into both his business and his personal life, Edmonds - whose stake in the oil minnow is worth a cool [pounds sterling]21m - hopes that he is days away from putting all the problems behind him.

The publication of the 200-page document - which will detail White Nile's claims to 60pc of a potentially-lucrative oil field in South Sudan - could raise as many questions as it answers.

But it should finally allow the market to determine the value of one of the most hyped companies since the dotcom bubble. White Nile was suspended on February 16 after soaring from 10p to 1381/2p in just four days of trading and some expect its price to crash when trading resumes.

The controversy surrounding the rights to the 67,000- sq km plot, known as Block B, that White Nile says it owns is well documented. French oil giant Total says it has owned the rights since 1980, a claim White Nile disputes.

'It's madness to think Total has a claim,' says Andrew Groves, Edmonds' right-hand man.

He argues that Total's deal with the Sudanese is meaningless, thanks to the terms of last year's peace accord between Khartoum and the provisional government of South Sudan.

That government - forged from the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement - transferred various oil concessions to its own firm, Nile Petroleum, last August.

The relisting document will show that Nile Petroleum holds 50pc of White Nile's shares, in exchange for White Nile owning 60pc of Block B, which could contain up to seven billion barrels of oil.

Given the $50 oil price, White Nile would have rights to more than $200bn worth of oil.

No wonder Edmonds is likening White Nile to Cairn Energy, the oil explorer that was propelled into the Footsie - it has since dropped out - after picking up a huge oil discovery that Shell had overlooked.

It was this kind of comparison that fuelled White Nile's gushing share price, which in turn prompted an investigation by the London Stock Exchange.

But what is the right price for White Nile if and when its suspension is lifted? A growing number of City traders have fixed their sights on the firm, with notorious bearraider Simon 'Evil Knievil' Cawkwell leading the pack.

'The whole thing is ridiculous,' says Cawkwell, who is betting the best part of [pounds sterling]400,000 on the shares falling on their return.

Edmonds and Groves privately concede that they wish the share price rise had never happened - but it has still made them very rich on paper. Their 10pc stakes are worth [pounds sterling]21m each, taking Edmonds' paper fortune across his five quoted companies to around [pounds sterling]30m.

Add to that a swanky [pounds sterling]4m house in Notting Hill, west London and it is not a fortune to be sniffed at, but it would pale into insignificance if Block B proves to be a goer. …

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