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Statoil makes pounds 203m Aran bid

The battle for control of Aran Energy, the Irish oil company, reached a climax yesterday with a pounds 203m bid by Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned group. Arco of the US, which had tabled a pounds 182m hostile bid, later bowed out of the fight.

Aran's board "welcomed" Statoil's bid but stopped short of recommending it. Even after Arco said it would not try to trump the Norwegians, Aran refused to comment."

Rolf Magne Larsen, senior vice president of Statoil, said: "This is definitely a full and final offer which reflects the risks and the upside of Aran's portfolio. We are sorry that the board of Aran did not feel able to recommend this generous offer, but look forward to working with them in the future." He said that if Statoil won the Irish company it would not maintain a stock market listing but would integrate Aran fully into the Norwegian group.

Statoil already has links with Aran through a potential joint development agreement on the Connemara field off the west coast of Ireland. Arco has criticised this agreement, on which shareholders are due to vote next week, as a move to "frustrate" its bid for Aran.

Michael Whelan, founder and chairman of Aran, said: "Our sole intention is to look after Aran's shareholders." He said Statoil's offer of Ir76p per share compared with an independent valuation of Ir104p.

"Anything short of that independent valuation is a discount. But that is not to say that we can realistically expect 104p per share from another bidder," he said.

The fight for Aran has centred on the valuation of its stake in the Schiehallion field west of Shetland, which is now regarded as one of the hottest provinces in the waters around the UK. Arco recently increased its offer on the basis of the value of Aran's Schiehallion stake but the US group's valuation of Irpounds 55m still fell short of Aran's figure of Irpounds 77m.

Mr Whelan, who founded Aran 23 years ago, is by far the largest private investor in the company, with about 4 per cent of the shares. "The shareholder interest is paramount in my case. Nostalgia and sentiment as founder is a tremendously powerful feeling but it cannot be critical at the end of the day," he said.