The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has sent formal requests to Italy's Eni SpA (E) and France's Total SA (TOT) related to the companies' Libyan businesses, the companies disclosed in regulatory filings.The investigation is among the first new probes to be disclosed since the fall of Col. Moammar Gadhafi last year.
Eni, the biggest foreign oil player in Libya, said that on June 10, 2011, it received from the SEC "a formal judicial request" to submit documents related to its activity in Libya from 2008 to 2011, according to Eni's annual 20-F filing to the SEC released.
"The subpoena is related to an ongoing investigation without further clarifications nor specific alleged violations in connection to 'certain illicit payments to Libyan officials' possibly violating the U.S. Foreign Corruption Practice Act," Eni said. Eni said it received a second request for documentation at the end of December 2011 and "is fully collaborating with the US SEC."
Total said in its annual report to the SEC last week that "in June 2011, the SEC issued to certain oil companies - including, among others, Total-a formal request for information related to their operations in Libya." "Total is cooperating with this non-public investigation," it said.
Spokespeople for Eni and the SEC declined to comment. A spokesperson for Total was available for comment.Total's operation in Libya is relatively small, representing only 3.4 % of the country's production and 2.2% of the French company's production, according to its Website.
But Libya, a former Italian colony, is key for Eni, which has been operating there since 1959. Prior to last year's civil war, output in the North African country represented about 14% of the Rome-based company's total production. Because of its large operations in Libya, experts warned Eni could be the foreign company with the most at stake following the end of the four-decade old Gadhafi regime.
The country's oil minister, Abdurahman Benyezza, who couldn't be reached on his mobile numbers, was until last year an Eni executive. The SEC probe follows news that the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime is investigating possible corruption at Norwegian fertilizer company Yara International ASA.