Chloe Farand

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BP Accused of 'Corporate Evasion' over Response to Climate Change Questions at AGM

Protesters in front of BP AGM in Manchester

Climate change was the single biggest issue raised during oil giant BP’s annual general meeting, as both activists shareholders and institutional investors pushed the company to take more ambitious action to shift its business model away from fossil fuels.

Campaigners criticised BP senior executives for at times “dismissive” answers, which they say showed little willingness from the company to take into account some issues around emissions, social justice and human rights.  

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Introducing Empire Oil: A DeSmog UK Special Investigation

African Oil Hub

The UK likes to brag about its credentials as a global climate leader. But a new DeSmog UK investigation reveals that beneath the green veneer lies some dirty business.

At the centre of it all is the City of London and its junior stock exchange, the Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

DeSmog UK’s new three-part investigative series Empire Oil: London’s Dirty Secret, lifts the veil on a “boys' club” that generates wealth for The City from environmentally damaging activities in politically unstable regions.

Through detailed analysis of company activity and market data, it exposes how AIM’s “light touch” regulation and complex offshore company structures create an opaque corporate environment in which conflicts of interest have been shown to thrive.

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‘Black Gold’: Mapping London’s African Oil Hub

Refection in oil spill in Kegbara- Dere, Niger Delta

A little-known network of London-based oil and gas companies tied to international tax havens and operating in the shadow of major industry players are seeking opportunities in Africa’s frontier oil and gas markets, a DeSmog UK investigation can reveal.

These companies are willing to take risks operating in politically unstable areas to dig out potentially lucrative resources under the African soil, despite analysts saying the activities are in direct conflict with global climate targets.

A study published in the journal Nature estimated 21 percent of Africa’s oil reserves and 33 percent of gas reserves would need to remain in the ground if the world is going to limit warming to an agreed target of around 1.5 degrees.

DeSmog UK examined the activities of 12 private and public limited oil and gas companies headquartered in London that have operations in Africa, and found that all make use of tax-havens in British overseas territories and crown dependencies such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Jersey.

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Taking AIM: London’s Wild West Stock Market

AIM's 20th anniversary

The London Stock Exchange’s history and reputation is one reason the city is viewed as a great global financial centre. But while the main market may be famous, the UK’s junior stock exchange has largely remained under the radar.

London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) has a record of attracting small oil, gas and mining companies hoping to raise money to fund their business, and has been denounced by critics for its weak regulation and lack of means of enforcement.

This second article in Desmog UK’s three-part investigation outlines how AIM creates a grey area that allows extractive industry outfits to operate with minimal oversight while at times putting vulnerable communities at risk.

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Exposed: The Elite ‘Boys Club’ Running London’s Opaque Oil Network

Oil in the Niger Delta

In the summer of 2008, as the price of oil peaked to a record high, a polar explorer and a group of City bankers decided to turn a former gaming company into an oil and gas investment company targeting one of Africa’s most unstable corners: Nigeria.

Investors were told the new business would find an oil asset in the shallow waters of the Niger Delta with the help of a local prince, partner with a company to extract the oil, and sell it on to an oil major for a profit.

To fund this new venture, Sirius Petroleum was listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), London’s junior stock market that allows small companies to raise funds by floating shares. Critics have denounced the market’s weak regulation, which has won the exchange a “casino” reputation

Behind the scheme was millionaire Andrew Regan and his Cayman Islands-registered investment vehicle Corvus Capital. Together with a group of established City operators, Regan reportedly made a fortune on AIM, buying into shell companies and transforming them into lucrative ventures. Sirius appears to be another example of this strategy.

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Who is Regulating Sirius Petroleum?

The City of London

Over the last 10 years, four different companies have acted as a nominee advisor, also known as a nomad, for Sirius Petroleum.

A nomad is a private company which carries out due diligence on a company that wants to list on AIM. A company’s nomad is then responsible for the oversight and guidance of the company throughout its listing.

Each nomad is also paid by the company it regulates and sometimes acts as its broker advising it on the price of shares and investment opportunities. This means nomads can have a vested interest in the company they advise doing well on AIM.

This creates grounds for conflicts of interest.

There are currently 31 nomads operating on AIM, carrying out due diligence for nearly 950 listed companies.

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The Risks of Oil Exploration in Offshore Nigeria

Man walking among oil spill in the Niger Delta

In 2016, Nigeria reclaimed its position as Africa’s largest oil producer and remains one of the countries with the largest oil reserves in the world, including in the deepwater off the Nigerian coast.

Oil exploitation in Nigeria goes back a long way. Shell first discovered oil in the Niger Delta region in the mid 1950s with production starting in 1958.

Since then, the Niger Delta has been associated with industrial oil exploitation. It was put on the map when two major oil spills by oil giant Shell in 2008 and 2009 caused extensive pollution, ravaged the environment and destroyed the livelihoods of the local fishing and farming communities. To this day, the clean-up has not been completed.

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Explainer: What Are Shell Companies?

Shell on the beach

A shell company is a company which has no assets and is used as a vehicle to hold and shift money in financial manoeuvres. Sometimes, this also refers to a dormant company which may be left for future use or that simply contains the skeleton of a previous business.

A cash shell company is similar but with cash in the bank. They are corporate vehicles floating on the stock exchange which have no operating business but can be filled with assets. Cash shells are often — but not always — used as investment vehicles. This means that the directors and shareholders of the shell may be looking for a business to fund.

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Explainer: What is a Nominee Account?

Nominee Account

A nominee account allows a stockbroker to hold shares on behalf of a client, making buying and selling those shares easier. The investor remains the only beneficial owner of the shares.

This may be a way for the investor to make it more difficult for anyone to find out how many shares he/she owns in a company since the name of the investor does not appear on the company’s register of shareholders.

It also allows investors to own shares without being involved with any of the paperwork.

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What is AIM and How Does its Regulation System Work?

Businessman

London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) was set-up in 1995 as the little sister of the London Stock Exchange, allowing growing companies to raise funds.

When a company decides to join the London Stock Exchange, it can list shares on the main market or seek admission on AIM, where smaller companies have a chance to raise money from outside investors.

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