A Possible Algerian-UAE Clash Over the Spanish “Naturgy”

A Possible Algerian-UAE Clash Over the Spanish “Naturgy”

Mohamed Moslem/English version: Dalila Henache

A possible economic clash may occur between Algeria and the United Arab Emirates if the Abu Dhabi-based “Taqa” succeeds in acquiring the Spanish utility “Naturgy”, Sonatrach’s partner in purchasing Algerian gas exported via the “Medgaz” pipeline or LNG exported via giant tankers.

Last Wednesday, the Emirati company “Taqa” said that it had begun talks with the three largest Spanish “Naturgy” shareholders through the Criteria Caixa group and two direct investment funds to reach a 100% acquisition agreement.

Critria, which controls most of the shares in Caixa Bank, owns approximately 26.7% of Naturgy, while the private equity funds “GEB” and “CVC” own roughly 20%. As for the UAE company “Taqa”, it owns more than 90% of the Abu Dhabi Energy Corporation, which is owned by the sovereign wealth fund “EDQ” in the capital, Abu Dhabi.

The Spanish company “Naturgy” controls 49% of the shares of the “Medgaz Pipeline”, which connects Beni Saf in western Algeria, to the city of Almeria, southern Spain, compared to 51% of Sonatrach share, which, as is known, transports Algerian gas according to contractual obligations between the two companies.

The Algerian Sonatrach also owns 4.1% of “Naturgy” shares. Its possession of these assets came after the Algerian party was able to win a case in international arbitration in Paris, which it filed against the Spanish party in 2007, after “Naturgy” rejected the increase in prices demanded by Sonatrach retroactively from 2007 to 2009, due to the high oil prices associated with gas at that time.

The UAE’s attempt to acquire “Naturgy” faces several obstacles, according to the Spanish newspaper “El Debate”, the first is that the Algerian government will use its veto power against it using the anti-takeover law, because “Naturgy” is a strategic company, the main supplier of gas in Spain and has major international agreements, the largest of them is with Algeria’s Sonatrach (it holds 49% of the shares in the Medgaz pipeline, compared to 51% for Sonatrach).

As for the second obstacle, if the UAE takes over 100% of the shares, a percentage will be taken to the stock market, and the government can take over its management through the State Society for Industrial Shares (SEPI). The third possibility is that the agreement with CriteriaCaixa, the main shareholder in Naturgy, for the holding company of the “La Caixa” Foundation to continue managing the company, which is the closest possibility to embodiment, according to the same source, and therefore “the Spanish government apparently leaked it to frustrate the agreement, and thus outweigh their interest in entering the company.”

The acquisition process also faces some obstacles, according to “El Debate,” and among the indicators of this problem is the government’s rush to place obstacles to the process through Finance Minister Maria Jesús Montero, who warned that the government’s goal “from the first moment” is “not to have any type of foreign investment that could affect the security of some companies that operate within the framework of national security and that have strategic responsibilities in the country,” as “Naturgy” is considered the first gas company and the third largest electricity company in Spain, which puts it on the level of the public company Sonelgaz in Algeria.

Algerian-Emirati relations have been at their worst during the last few years, and the matter reached the point of a meeting of the Supreme Security Council in Algeria, which directed harsh criticism at the United Arab Emirates, without naming it, because of its practices against Algeria and some neighbouring countries, as was hinted by the President of the Republic, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in his last interview with the national press.


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