Gambia hires ex-British Prime Minister’s wife in legal battle with African Petroleum

The Gambia has picked out a team of expert lawyers to fight back against the Africa Petroleum, which is unwilling to accept the withdrawal of its two offshore blocks.

The country hired a UK-based international law firm, Cherie Blair, against African Petroleum in a tussle for highly-prized blocks, according to Africa Intelligence, a leading international news portal for oil and gas industry.

Cherie Blair is the wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was last year accused of striking a series of deals offering legal advice to autocratic governments.

African Petroleum claims licensing rights over Gambia’s blocks A1 and A4, which are thought to contain over a billion barrels of oil and lie next to oil blocks in neighboring Senegal, where big discoveries have been made.

However, Gambia said in August that African Petroleum’s licenses had expired and were now open for relicensing, accusing the company of failing to meet its commitments, charges African Petroleum denies.

Though officials could not be reached at both the justice and energy ministries, the Minister of Energy Fafa Sanyang had said in September that The Gambia was ready to face the African Petroleum in court.

“Our position is very clear: they did not fulfill their work obligation as agreed; their license expired in September last year, and they asked for an extension which was not approved,” said Sanyang.

It is not clear how much The Gambia might have paid for legal services against the company but the cost of losing such litigation can be astronomical.

The Gambia lost a similar case against the mining company Carnegie Minerals in 2014 at the same U.S.-based International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes and was ordered to pay $23 million dollars, a fine which was later negotiated with the company by Adama Barrow’s administration.

African Petroleum is an independent oil and gas exploration company listed on the Oslo Axess with an equity interest in licenses in four countries offshore West Africa (Senegal, The Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone).

“Arbitration is certainly not our preferred route. However, we believe arbitration is necessary to protect our interests in these licenses in which we have made significant investments over the years,” African Petroleum Chief Executive Jens Pace said.

(Reporting and Writing by Mustapha Darboe; Sourcing from The Torch)

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