Saudi Naimi's battles against Western 'greed' shine light on Aramco IPO

Fri Nov 4, 2016 9:12am EDT
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By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) - As Saudi Arabia prepares for the world's biggest initial public offering (IPO), memoirs from its former oil minister Ali al-Naimi offer a rare insight into decades of domestic infighting over the future of state-run Saudi Aramco.

The 300-page book, titled "Out of the Desert" and published by Portfolio Penguin, describes the battles waged by the influential industry veteran including fending off Western attempts to gain control of oil giant Aramco's best assets.

Naimi joined Aramco as a teenager in 1947 and climbed through the ranks to become company chief from 1983 to 1995, when he was named minister of petroleum - a post he retained until his retirement this year.

His career spans the rise of the "petro-politics" that defined the recent history of the kingdom, including the birth of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1969 and the oil embargo in 1973.

Even though the book holds back from detailing any political jostling within the secretive Saudi royal family and government, it gives a clear idea that various factions have often pushed for different paths for Saudi Aramco.

Naimi describes several instances throughout his career when he fought top executives from Western companies including U.S. giant Exxon Mobil trying what he describes as winning lucrative deals via good connections with some Saudi officials.

"They (Exxon) wanted us to turn over highly restricted information about our Ghawar field, for instance, that isn't even known within the kingdom outside of the oil ministry and Saudi Aramco," Naimi writes about gas talks between oil majors and Aramco at the end of the 1990s.

If Aramco does list its stock as planned in 2018, investors would expect the firm to disclose classified information on its reserves, including Ghawar - Saudi Arabia's biggest oilfield.   Continued...

Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi gestures as he attends a news conference in Doha, Qatar February 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon/File Photo