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In Tunisia, the Zenith Energy Case Embarrasses the Business World

In the corridors of the Canadian-Tunisian Chamber of Commerce (CCCT), in Montreal, the affair is causing a lot of talk. “It’s a slap given to a cousin”, summarizes, on condition of anonymity, a Quebec businessman who followed the steps taken by Zenith Energy against Tunisia. A file which could weaken the relations between Ottawa and Tunis, whereas, according to the figures of the Canadian government, the value of the direct Canadian investments in Tunisia amount to 57 million dollars.

On June 6, Zenith Energy, an oil and gas production and export company, initiated proceedings against Tunisia with the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, governed by the 1965 Washington Convention. origin of the dispute between the two parties: the oil concession of Ezzaouia, in Zarzis, managed by Ecumed Petroleum Zarzis, a subsidiary of the Canadian group, and that of Sidi El Kilani, managed by another subsidiary, Canadian North Africa Oil & Gas .

A partnership weakened by Tunis?

Zenith Energy had acquired, in March 2021, the subsidiary of Candax Energy, Ecumed Petroleum Zarzis, which held a 45% stake in the Ezzaouia concession. The rest of the shares belong to the Tunisian public oil company (ETAP). At the time, the boss of Zenith Energy, Andrea Cattaneo, welcomed this operation which was to generate significant monthly income. In recent years, the various international oil companies had experienced difficult situations, marked by administrative blockages. We remember the departures of ENI, EnQuest, Shell or even Petrofac, Medco and Gulfsands Petroleum. “Zenith Energy, despite everything, continued to invest in Tunisia,” said a Tunisian economic journalist.

According to the request for arbitration, which we have been able to consult, Zenith accuses the Republic of Tunisia and ETAP of “actions contrary to the conditions of the Sidi El Kilani and Ezzaouia permits, delays in payment for the oil delivered and unexplained obstructions in the processing of the sale of the oil produced”. A person familiar with the matter is surprised that Tunis did not react sooner: “Zenith Energy is logically asserting its rights, but by not responding to the company’s requests, Tunisia is undermining a partnership that is nevertheless win-win” .

Zenith Energy, ready to negotiate amicably

Because despite the legal process initiated by Zenith, the Canadian continues its activities in Tunisia, in particular in the Robbana and El Bibane concessions which belong to it 100%. Reached by telephone, Zenith Energy, which appealed to the law firm Gide Loyrette Nouel, “refuses to comment” on a procedure in progress. On the side of the Tunisian authorities, it is also radio silence, even if, more locally in Zarzis, we implicitly support Zenith’s approach.

Especially since, according to the confidential document that we were able to read, the Canadian company, which is claiming 48 million US dollars, says it is ready for an amicable negotiation with the Republic of Tunisia. And on the side of its concessions, a source close to the governorate of Zarzis affirms that “the company has always maintained good relations with the local populations”. Zenith also sponsors the Espérance Sportive de Zarzis football club.

Source : LeJournaldelAfrique