Oil group plots elevation into FTSE 100 index

Chief executive says 'world has woken up' to Iraqi reserves and targets April for full listing

Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP), the fast-growing oil group, plans to move to the main board of the London Stock Exchange in April.

The Iraq-focused oil group, which is currently listed on the junior Aim-market, has long targeted a move to the full index, though the timing has not been certain partly due to share ownership issues.

However, the one-time minnow's growth has been so extraordinary in the past two months that GKP would comfortably qualify for the FTSE 100 blue chip club.

Todd Kozel, GKP's hugely colourful executive chairman from Texas, told The Independent on Sunday: "We're not that little kid in short-pants anymore, it's time to move to the full list. We're working on it [a full listing] operationally, internally, administratively and I'd like to have this done in April, maybe May."

Mr Kozel, inset below, said the recent rise, which has seen the price climb from 128p at the end of October to 411p at close of play on Friday, was due to the "world waking up" to the vast oil reserves GKP possesses in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq. This increased share price values the company at around £3.5bn.

Institutional investors' interests have been piqued by widespread speculation that bidders are circling GKP. US giant ExxonMobil, which has bet heavily on the region, has run the slide rule over the company, with rumours suggesting that Chinese giant, Sinopec, has also mulled an offer.

A leading investor said that the huge level of recent interest in the shares was partly down to institutions looking to sweep up shares ahead of GKP joining, at least, the FTSE 250. More fund managers have looked to take shares once they realised that it was likely to be a FTSE 100 company.

However, Mr Kozel said that he hoped that small private investors, who speculate feverishly about the company on online discussion forums and some of whom have risked their life-savings on GKP, would not be squeezed out by the big City firms.

"We have plenty of blue chip institutions invested in us already, why shouldn't the private investors stay as well? What's the difference between them and the blue chips [to the final share price]?" he asked.

Leading City investors have held private concerns about GKP because of confusion over Mr Kozel's ownership of the company, which is held through a series of trusts. These were partially unravelled in his divorce of Ashley Kozel, which was finally settled last month and also entertained the City with evidence that he gave about strippers in glamorous nightclubs.

Mr Kozel laughed about the details of his personal life, revealed in these pages last year, but added: "GKP is evolving quickly, creating value quickly, and is noth-ing short of a world class asset."

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