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Bolivia says to control four energy firms by May

Bolivia’s government said on Thursday it set an April 30 deadline to take control of four energy companies as part of a nationalization drive begun in 2006, buying company shares worth at least $200 million.

The firms include Andina, controlled by Spain’s Repsol YPF; Chaco, owned by BP; pipeline company Transredes, controlled by Ashmore Energy International Ltd; and storage and fuel transport firm CLHB, controlled by German and Peruvian firms.

Leftist President Evo Morales and his Cabinet ministers set the April 30 deadline in a decree on Wednesday, according to state news agency ABI. Energy Minister Carlos Villegas told reporters on Thursday, that negotiations with the four firms were “very advanced.” “What was defined yesterday (Wednesday) was a date, because the government wants to fulfill its promise to the Bolivian people to regain control of privatized companies,” he said. Villegas said he was certain an agreement would be reached since no company “indicated that it disagrees with the nationalization decree ... or the (state’s stake of) 50% plus one share.” Officials at the four companies were not immediately available to comment.

The government targeted these companies for takeover starting in May 2006 with its energy sector nationalization, which turned private companies into mere service providers to state energy company YPFB. Villegas said earlier this month the share purchases would be financed with an upcoming payment of around $200 million from Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, for the liquids included in the natural gas it imports from Bolivia.

Andina, Chaco and Transredes are mixed companies created during a privatization drive in the mid-1990s while CLHB, also known as Bolivia’s Hydrocarbon Logistics Company, is a private firm formed later to run YPFB’s old storage operations. ABI reported that “YPFB needs $214 million to control 51% of shares in Chaco, Andina and Transredes,” adding that the dollar figure for CLHB was not available. (Reuters)