* Some 500 jobs at risk, test for French president
* Deadline for offers on Tuesday at 1600 GMT
* Decision by court not before Thursday
By Michel Rose
PARIS, Feb 5 Potential bidders for
Normandy-based oil refinery Petit-Couronne have until Tuesday to
submit offers to legal administrators and avert a liquidation
the French government has been desperate to prevent.
Big names in the oil industry have so far shown no interest
in the former Petroplus refinery, France's oldest, as oil demand
in Europe has dropped sharply and the industry struggles with
The only known firm bidder for the 161,000 barrels-per-day
Petit-Couronne refinery so far is NetOil, led by Middle Eastern
businessman Roger Tamraz, who submitted an improved offer after
the commercial court in Rouen in northern France rejected its
initial bid on financial and technical grounds last year.
Other potential bidders have yet to submit firm offers.
France's industry minister Arnaud Montebourg sought to strike a
deal with the Libyan sovereign fund in November, but the Libyans
said they had only sent a letter of intent and it remains
unclear whether they are still in the race.
The government has also ruled out a possible offer by
Iranian firm Tadbir Energy because of international sanctions
banning oil imports from Iran.
"The government did everything to rule out the Iranian
offer, even though it wasn't in contravention of the embargo,"
union representative Yvon Scornet said in a statement.
The Petit-Couronne unions met with government advisers on
Monday evening to discuss offers on the table, but have warned
of possible industrial action if the plant were to be
"If tomorrow a solution is not found, the workers of
Petroplus will strike another tone," Scornet said.
But a government source said after the meeting that "chances
for a successful outcome were limited".
The Rouen court is expected to rule on the suitability of
potential bidders by Thursday at the earliest, after legal
administrators have submitted any firm offers to the court. If
no suitable buyer appears, the court could decide to liquidate
the plant, which would lead of the loss of 500 jobs.
The Petroplus case is the latest stumbling block for
Socialist President Francois Hollande, who has vowed to stem
rising unemployment by the end of the year but has had to deal
with a series of high-profile plant closures.
It is also a test for Hollande's communication skills after
his government faced sharp criticism over its mixed messages
about a possible nationalisation during a two-month battle over
the future of ArcelorMittal's Florange steel plant.
Hollande has said the state could at some point provide
financing for the Petroplus facility, but would not take over
A Petit-Couronne liquidation could also be a headache for
former owner Shell, with unions saying the oil major
should be asked to contribute to the cost of dismantling and
depolluting the site if no buyer was found.
Shell, which operated the refinery since it was opened in
1929, sold the plant to Swiss refiner Petroplus in April 2008,
before Petroplus filed for bankruptcy in January last year.
In December, Shell ended a six-month oil processing deal
with the troubled plant and has not extended the contract,
making the refinery less attractive for buyers due to expensive