Republic of Congo oil official selling oil to own companies at below-market prices

A U.S.-based natural-resource watchdog accused a top Republic of Congo oil official Tuesday of selling hundreds of millions of dollars of government oil to his own private companies at below-market prices. Representatives of Denis Gokana said Gokana, the head of Republic of Congo's national oil company, had no immediate response to the Global Witness allegations he sold some US$472 million in state-oil at cut-rate prices to his own companies, which in turn sold the oil for a profit.

"The government must now hold a public enquiry into this blatant conflict of interest and instigate an independent audit of all offshore trading operations," Washington D.C.-based Global Witness said in a statement. A Global Witness spokeswoman, Sarah Wykes, said the scheme is unlawful because it breaks national oil-company conflict-of-interest rules.

A government spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment. Global Witness said Gokana's activities, aided by the son of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, cost the country some US$30 million in 2003, but it did not break out similar figures for other years since 2002 when it said the plan was launched.

The group said Republic of Congo made US$1 billion from oil in 2004 and that petroleum earnings make up about 70 percent of the impoverished west African nation's operating budget.

The one-time French colony, buffeted by back-to-back civil wars starting in the late 1990s, produced about 227,000 barrels of petroleum per day in 2004, according to the CIA World Factbook, reports the AP. N.U.

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