Nigerian court says has jurisdiction over Chevron asset dispute

LAGOS Tue May 13, 2014 10:22am EDT

LAGOS May 13 (Reuters) - A Nigerian judge has ruled the Federal High Court should have jurisdiction over Chevron's asset sale dispute with Nigeria's Brittania-U, the local firm's lawyers said, dealing a blow to Chevron which had hoped to have the case dismissed.

Chevron and Brittania-U are at loggerheads after the Nigerian firm said it paid a deposit to buy some onshore oil blocks from the U.S. group, only for Chevron to look for alternative bids.

The U.S. firm argued the sale was a private matter and should not be subject to court involvement.

However, the Federal High Court ruled it had jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter and dismissed Chevron's objections, Brittania-U's lawyer Rickey Tarfa told Reuters outside the court on Tuesday.

"It would now seek to find out whether the bid was transparently done and why the winner was not declared," Tarfa said, adding the case was adjourned to May 23 for hearing of pending applications, which includes examining the bid process.

Brittania-U, run by former Chevron executive Catherine Uju Ifejika, was the highest bidder at over $1 billion for the biggest cluster of five onshore oil blocks being sold by the U.S. group - OML 52, 53 and 55.

Chevron had begun talks with the company over the sale. Brittania-U paid an initial deposit of $250 million and provided a binding commitment from Nigerian banks for the balance of the bid price, Tarfa said, but Chevron decided to look at alternative bids, prompting Brittania-U to challenge its decision in court.

A lawyer for Chevron declined to comment.

Nigerian oil firm Seplat , which raised $500 million via a debut stock market listing in Lagos and London in April, was the second-highest bidder. (Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Mark Potter)

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