* Court rejects list of Addax demands
* Some Chinese investments in West Africa at risk
* Gabon says Addax had tried to reoccupy field
* Proceedings, negotiations continue in $1 bln dispute
By Emma Farge
LONDON, Sept 13 Addax Petroleum, owned by top
Chinese refiner Sinopec , has lost a ruling
at an international tribunal as part of a $1 billion legal
battle over an oilfield in Gabon, a confidential document
The International Chamber of Commerce's arbitration court,
in its first decision in the dispute, rejected a request by
Addax to resume operations at the field and prevent Gabon from
selling the licence to a third party.
But the Paris court's decision does not necessarily mean
that Addax, which accounts for around a third of Sinopec's
overseas oil production, will lose its claim for $330 million as
part of the ongoing proceedings. The company said it could win
other important claims, but did not elaborate.
Addax, in a statement to Reuters, confirmed the court had
denied its request for provisional measures to maintain a
"certain status quo" while the arbitration continued.
"This decision however has no bearing on the main claims of
the parties and does not constitute a decision on the disputes
that triggered the arbitration," said Addax, which started the
arbitration last December.
Sinopec did not respond to requests for comment on
Gabon took over the Obangue field in January, after alleging
a breach of contract, in a case closely watched by investors
ahead of a planned licensing round in the Central African
producer before the year-end.
The dispute has also raised broader questions about the
future of Chinese interests in the region, after some projects
owned by other Chinese firms were placed under review.
The latest ruling, dated Sept. 10 and seen by Reuters,
showed that the court found there were no grounds to approve a
list of "emergency interim measures" submitted by Addax in April
as the contract between Gabon and Addax had expired.
An ICC official declined to comment on the case.
"We hope that this very positive result will put an end to
the press campaign wrongly suggesting that the legal position of
the Republic of Gabon is weak," said Jean-Georges Betto, partner
of lawyer Betto Seraglini, acting for Gabon's government.
According to allegations made by Gabon in the court
document, Addax in June tried to reoccupy the disputed field,
surrounded by dense inland forest, and Gabon responded by
sending in a police unit.
Shortly afterwards, Addax sent a team of senior officials
including Chief Executive Yi Zhang to negotiate with the
government, according to sources familiar with the talks.
A source close to the government in Libreville said
negotiations on the future of Addax in Gabon, where the company
also has exploration activities, would resume in September.
He added that the last set of negotiations had stumbled over
Addax's refusal to withdraw its legal complaint before the
"The Addax Petroleum group always prefers dialogue over
litigation and we are pleased to confirm that discussions with
the government are ongoing to ensure that the parties' common
objective to find an amicable resolution of all disputes between
them will be achieved shortly," the company said.
The court document showed that Gabon in November asked oil
firms Total Gabon and Shell Gabon, which have contracts to buy
oil from the field, to stop making payments to the Chinese firm
and to send the money instead to a Libreville bank account.
Addax informed Gabon's oil minister in the same month that,
because of the lack of cash flow, it would have to shut down
operations at the field.
Addax had sought to lift the ban on payments but this was
also rejected by the court.
Shell declined to comment and Total did
not respond to a request for comment. They are two of the
biggest oil producers in Gabon.
Gabon conducted audits in 2011 and 2012 of the hydrocarbons
sector, which pumps around 240,000 barrels per day and accounts
for 80 percent of the country's export earnings.
Its newly formed Gabon Oil Co has sought a greater role in
the industry and is seeking a stake of up to 15 percent in oil
blocs owned by foreign firms.
Separately, other Chinese firms have also faced challenges
in Africa in recent months.
Gabon put China Machinery Engineering Corp's
Belinga iron ore project on hold in 2012 and introduced a
year-long audit, a U.S. State Department report on Gabon's
investment climate in 2013 showed.
Gabon is negotiating with CMEC but will likely bring in
other miners and could break up the vast concession, according
to Gabon's deputy minister for the economy.