Mitsui, Qatar in race to buy Petronet stake

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: May 2 2014, 18:19pm hrs
PetronetPetronet LNG Ltd is India's largest natural gas importer. (Reuters)
Japan's Mitsui and cash-rich sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman are keen to buy Asian Development Bank's 5.2 per cent stake in Petronet LNG Ltd, India's largest natural gas importer.

ADB had in 2011 decided to sell its 5.2 per cent stake in Petronet but could not go ahead as promoter PSUs like gas utility GAIL refused to waive off their first right of refusal.

However, with the Oil Ministry refusing permission to public sector oil companies to buy the stake on ground that such a move will alter the character of Petronet, the promoters have fallen in line and all of them including GAIL giving consent.

"ADB is being told to go ahead with the stake sale... there are a lot of people interested in buying the stake. Sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman as well as multinationals like Mitsui are all interested besides some PE investors," a top official privy to the development said.

ADB in 2011 offered to sell its 39 million shares or 5.2 per cent stake in Petronet. GAIL, Oil and Natural Gas Corp, Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum, which hold a 12.5 per cent stake each in Petronet, along with GdF of France have the first right of refusal over the ADB stake.

Originally, all the four state-owned promoters - IOC, ONGC, GAIL and BPCL were interested in buying ADB' stake but the firm's management was opposed to the move as it would have led to PSU holding crossing 50 per cent that would turn the LNG importer into a government entity.

Petronet is registered as a private company even though public sector oil firms hold 50 per cent stake and Oil Secretary is its Chairman.

Following Oil Ministry's veto, IOC, ONGC and BPCL withdrew and waived off their pre-emption or right of first refusal. But GAIL continued to insist on buying ADB stake as its Board believed that it was strategically important for the gas player to have a greater say in Petronet.

The official said GAIL has finally fallen in line and a decision taken to let ADB sell stake to any of the other interested parties.

"They (ADB) can sell the sake in a off-market transaction," he said.

ADB has held 5.2 per cent stake in Petronet since 2004. It had in fact first proposed to exit Petronet in 2008 but was persuaded to stay on as the four promoters made a strong pitch to buy the stake.

ADB norms also stipulate it to divest its equity holding in a company three years from the date of the entity going public. Petronet's IPO came in 2004 and ADB was supposed to exit Petronet in 2007, but was persuaded to stay on.