* Bidders have until Nov. 5 to submit offer
* Production to continue until mid-December
* Administrator says bidders did not show financial capacity
By Michel Rose
ROUEN, France, Oct 16 A French court has
rejected two bids to take over the Petit-Couronne oil refinery,
the oldest in France, sending it into liquidation unless a new
offer is submitted by Nov. 5.
The refinery was operated by insolvent oil company
The ruling is bad news for French President Francois
Hollande as he struggles to stop high-profile industrial
closures that are hurting his election pledge to turn around the
French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who has been
actively trying to rescue the plant, said in a statement the
government would continue efforts to find a buyer.
The commercial court in Rouen rejected two bids, including
one from Dubai-based NetOil, the unlisted group of Middle
Eastern businessman Roger Tamraz, and from Hong Kong-based
Alanfandi Petroleum Group. The NetOil bid was regarded by the
refinery's trade unions as the most likely to succeed.
"The court assessed that the bidders had not answered to the
court's demands to demonstrate their technical and financial
capacity," the Petroplus administrators said in a statement.
Tamraz told Reuters late on Tuesday that NetOil would not
give up and would try to meet the court's demands by the new
"We believe in this project. It's also a national asset of
France, the closest refinery to Paris," Tamraz said in a
telephone interview from Paris. "All this is a slap to this new
government, which is trying to save jobs. There's a bit of a
Tamraz said his team had presented letters of recommendation
from BNP Paribas SA and Commerzbank AG, but
the court in Rouen wanted more information about a possible deal
with an unnamed oil trader.
Some 500 jobs are at stake and the decision was met with
shouting and weeping from workers standing outside the court.
"They are going to kill us," Yvon Scornet, spokesman for the
refinery's unions, told reporters after the decision.
The unions were part of the process to find new buyers,
liaise with the government and help bidders with the paperwork.
Marie-Jo Herlin, who worked at the plant with her husband
and son, said she was flabbergasted.
"I can't believe it. I am 57, and it's been 57 years that
the refinery feeds me and I thought it would feed my
grand-children and my family," Herlin told Reuters outside the
"We've restarted the refinery, we make profits, what else do
they need? They want to kill us, that's all."
The refinery, which will continue to operate until
mid-December, was shut down in January, but restarted production
in June thanks to a temporary oil processing deal with former
French refiners have been struggling for years because of
poor margins, weak demand and a surplus of gasoline capacity,
while the traditional market for French gasoline exports, the
United States, has dried up.
Tamraz had pledged to invest 500 million euros ($646.80
million) in the refinery and said he had been in contact with a
numerous French government officials at the ministries of
defence and industry, customs and the strategic oil reserves