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pounds 143m write-off for Premier shrugs off problems

PREMIER OIL chief executive, Charles Jamieson, yesterday shrugged off both the impact of a pounds 143m write-off and the attacks of a pressure group demanding that the group pull out of Asia.

The write-off was caused by the requirements of accounting standard FRS11, which forces companies such as Premier to disaggregate their assets in different operating areas and prevents them offsetting gains against losses.

It left the group nursing a loss of pounds 137.2m against a profit of pounds 48.5m in 1997, but banking covenants are unaffected.

The board also rejected claims by rebel shareholders led by Dr Peter Felter, a partner in a City law firm, that Asia is too difficult for a small oil independent and it should exit the region, which generated 40 per cent of profits in 1997. Mr Jamieson played down pleas from the Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the World Development Movement to stop co-operating with the military regime in Myanmar. Far from pulling out, Premier has committed itself further in Asia. The Yetagun project in Myanmar should come on stream in April next year and sales of 2.5 trillion cubic feet of gas from the offshore West Natuna gas field to Singapore are due to start from mid-2001.

Premier has also signed an agreement to combine exploration and production assets in Pakistan with Shell.

There is no dividend, and the shares, which traded at 51p last year, fell 1p to 15p.