Panel forces Lasmo to clarify claims: Takeover battle hots up as bid target strikes oil in Colombia

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The Independent Online
THE TAKEOVER Panel has forced Lasmo to clarify criticism of Enterprise Oil, which was this morning due to extend its hostile offer for its smaller rival.

Lasmo yesterday released a terse statement explaining the reason behind its criticism of Enterprise's international operations, but later used the announcement to mount a further attack on its accounting record. Last week Lasmo said Enterprise had breached accounting standards rules.

Lasmo yesterday also announced details of a significant discovery in Colombia, which it claimed could add up to 5 per cent to its reserves.

But Enterprise said the oil was low grade, while rumours swept the industry that Lasmo's partner in the field, Sun Colombia, was selling its one-third stake to Nomeco in the US.

Lasmo, in its defence document published on 17 May, attacked Enterprise's international operations, claiming they had lost pounds 150m since 1990. Enterprise complained to the panel that Lasmo had excluded its profitable Norway operation from its calculations. Enterprise said that with Norway included, the international operations made profits of pounds 100m over the period.

Yesterday Lasmo said: 'The loss-making operations are those described by Enterprise in its accounts as the 'rest of the world' which, for clarification, excludes Norway, which was not loss-making over the period.'

Later, Lasmo's chief operating officer, John Hogan, said the confusion arose because of the way Enterprise accounted for the Norwegian operation. He said Enterprise's operating statistics sometimes included Norway and the UK as a single entity, and some other statistics did not. 'There is a real quagmire to get to the bottom of here,' he said.

Lasmo's new oil find, in the Espinal block in Colombia, could produce between 50 million and 150 million barrels, adding between 2 and 5 per cent to its reserves. The site is seven kilometres from a Lasmo pipeline, which should keep infrastructure costs low, and production from the field could start from 1995 after the completion of an adjoining pipeline.

Enterprise is today expected to extend its pounds 1.4bn offer for Lasmo to 17 June, and release details of how many shareholders have accepted its bid so far.

The company, led by Graham Hearne, maintained last night that it would not raise its offer, despite growing speculation that it will have to add a cash sweetener to the all-share proposal and simplify its plan to offer warrants. Enterprise shares rose 3p to 402p. Lasmo was down 3p to 145p.

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