Petroplus halves workforce at Swiss HQ-sources

Thu Mar 8, 2012 10:39am EST

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* Between 70-80 staff dismissed from Zug office

* Petroplus management mulls buy-out of UK, German plants

By Emma Farge and Jessica Donati

GENEVA/LONDON, March 8 (Reuters) - Oil refiner Petroplus made around half its workforce redundant at its head office in Switzerland ahead of a last-ditch survival plan to reduce its refining fleet to two, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

Between 70-80 staff workers or nearly half the workforce at the headquarters in the Swiss canton of Zug were informed of the decision on Thursday, the sources told Reuters.

Five oil traders from an original team of 14 were among the dismissed workers while at least one other has resigned, a source said.

"It's been the worst day of my career. There was a townhall meeting...some people were in tears," said a source who attended the meeting.

Petroplus' administrator law firm Wenger-Plattner could not be reached for immediate comment.

Europe's largest independent refiner by capacity has been teetering since its lenders withdrew credit late last year and is filing for insolvency, a victim of thin refining margins and high debt.

Last week, Swiss-based trader Gunvor, co-owned by a Russian tycoon, said it was acquiring Petroplus' Antwerp refinery in Belgium.

Sources told Reuters that the company's management was drafting a plan to create a slimmed-down version of the company consisting of the UK and German refineries to remain operational.

Cash for this purchase would come from an estimated $1 billion of oil product stocks held in Petroplus tanks, the sources said.

"They are trying to build a company around Ingolstadt and Coryton using remaining stocks," said a source familiar with the company's strategy.

But Petroplus management could meet with stiff competition from other buyers, with trading house Vitol and Swiss investment vehicle Klesch Group among the parties that have already expressed interest in these assets.

The UK and German plants are widely seen as the most desirable plants among the original five because they are relatively complex, meaning they are able to upgrade low-value products into higher-value light, end transport fuels.

UK refinery Coryton has attracted more than 40 interested parties following the insolvency of its owner, its administrator said last month. (Reporting by Emma Farge, Jessica Donati and Dmitry Zhdannikov; editing by Jason Neely)

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