Chinese join Imperial pursuit

A two-way battle could be brewing for Imperial Energy, the £1.1bn London-listed oil and gas explorer with exploration and production licences in western Siberia and interests in northern Kazakhstan.

China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation, the Chinese state-owned oil company better known as Sinopec, was reported yesterday to have launched a bid to buy the business in a move that could top a cash offer made last month by an unnamed bidder, understood to be India's Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC).

Imperial Energy, chaired by its founder, Peter Levine, is reported to have allowed the Chinese energy firm to start due diligence by giving it access to its data room after an approach last week. Imperial Energy directors declined to comment yesterday.

The FTSE-250 company, which was founded only four years ago, has been in the spotlight since the middle of last month, when directors responded to media speculation by confirming they were in talks about a possible cash offer for the business pitched at £12.90 a share. Despite the interest Imperial shares have been changing hands at around £10.75 - some way below the price suggested by its initial suitor.

The company said at the time it was making the announcement without the consent of the unnamed bidder and that there could be no certainty that an offer would ultimately be made.

Two weeks ago it said it had been granted a new, long-term production licence at its Tomsk fields in western Siberia.


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