* Two "serious" bids among five received
* Some 500 jobs at risk, test for French president
* Industry minister says govt ready to take minority stake
* Court decision not before Thursday
By Michel Rose
PARIS, Feb 5 France has received five offers for
the takeover of its troubled Petroplus refinery, two of them
"serious," as a deadline passed on Tuesday for potential bidders
to submit offers to legal administrators and avoid a liquidation
the government hopes to avoid.
Late on Tuesday, French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg
described as "serious" the offers received by Switzerland's
investor group Terrae and Egypt's energy company Arabiyya Lel
Big oil firms have shown no interest in the Normandy-based
Petit-Couronne refinery, France's oldest, as oil demand in
Europe has dropped sharply and the industry struggles with
When contacted by Reuters, a spokesman for Arabiyya Lel
Istithmaraat was not immediately able to comment.
Another known firm bidder for the 161,000 barrels-per-day
refinery is NetOil, led by Middle Eastern businessman Roger
He submitted an improved offer after the commercial court in
Rouen in northern France rejected an initial bid on financial
and technical grounds last year.
Earlier on Tuesday, Montebourg said France was ready to help
in a potential takeover.
"We are available to go along with a bidder, we said so to
the ones which looked into the project," he told French radio
RTL, adding that the state was ready to take a minority share.
Montebourg sought to strike a deal with Libya's sovereign
fund in November, but the Libyans said they had only sent a
letter of intent.
The minister insisted on Tuesday that the possibility of a
Libyan involvement remained "serious".
"Oil-producing countries have an interest in taking
positions on the European market for when production picks up,"
The government has also ruled out a possible offer by
Iranian firm Tadbir Energy because of international sanctions on
"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 to discuss offers on the table, but have warned of
possible industrial action if the plant were to be liquidated.
"If tomorrow a solution is not found, the workers of
Petroplus will strike another tone," Scornet said.
Montebourg said chances for a successful outcome were
"limited but not impossible".
The Rouen court is expected to rule on the suitability of
potential bidders by Thursday at the earliest, after legal
administrators submit any firm offers to the court.
If none appear, the court could decide to liquidate the
plant, which would lead to the loss of 500 jobs - a scenario the
government hopes to prevent.
Socialist President Francois Hollande 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.
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 refinery, but would not take over
A Petit-Couronne liquidation could also be a headache for
former owner Shell, with unions saying the company
should be asked to contribute to the cost of dismantling the
facility and cleaning up the site.
Shell, which opened the refinery in 1929, sold it to Swiss
refiner Petroplus in April 2008. The firm filed for
bankruptcy in January 2012.
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