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In wake of scandal, Griffiths Energy plans IPO in London

Gary Guidry, the new president and CEO of Griffiths Energy International Inc., speaks to media outside of a Calgary court in January after a judge approved a $10.35-million penalty to the company for bribing a foreign official.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Griffiths Energy International Inc., which last month pleaded guilty to bribing African officials, is working toward an initial public offering in London this spring, betting that overseas investors are more likely than their Canadian counterparts to support its foreign projects, sources say.

The Calgary-based oil company hopes to sell shares for the equivalent of $10 each, a significant jump from its current grey market price of $6.30 a share. Royal Bank of Canada's securities unit is leading the effort, two people familiar with the plans said. Bankers at Barclays PLC are also involved.

If Griffiths Energy's IPO ambitions prove successful, it would validate the company's approach to its corruption scandal. The company's new management discovered inappropriate "consulting" agreements when it first prepared for a Canadian IPO in the fall of 2011 and launched an internal investigation into its dealings in Chad. It then cancelled its first attempt to raise money in the public markets.

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But the company believes it has a clean slate after pleading guilty to bribery charges and agreeing to pay a $10.35-million fine last month.

The company has always been clear about its intentions to go public, and its planned IPO will demonstrate whether self-reporting, investigating, and pleading guilty is enough to convince exchange officials, regulators, bankers, and investors to welcome companies with troubled pasts. Griffiths Energy was charged under Canada's Corruption of Foreign Officials Act.

Alan Bayless, a spokesperson for Griffiths Energy, declined to comment on the IPO.

Griffiths Energy in March, 2012, said it had about 112.4 million shares outstanding after issuing 20.84 million shares at $6 each in a private placement. A $10-a-share valuation in a public offering would imply that the whole company is worth more than $1.1-billion.

It could also make one of the people at the centre of the bribery case wealthier. Nouracham Niam is married to Mahamoud Bechir, Chad's former ambassador to Canada and the United States.

Griffiths Energy, co-founded by the late Brad Griffiths and brothers Naeem and Parvez Tyab, paid Ms. Niam $2-million (U.S.) to help secure oil and gas exploration contracts in Chad, according to an agreed statement of facts filed in a Calgary court. She also bought 1.6 million founders shares for $1,600, the statement says. Two of her friends also bought shares and Mr. Bechir told The Globe and Mail that one of those associates sold his shares – another 1.6 million – to Ms. Niam.

That means she may be sitting on 3.2 million shares, worth $32-million if the company can achieve its proposed price.

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Canadian prosecutors are trying to recover these shares as well as the $2-million payment; they are still investigating. Griffiths Energy's new management team joined the company in July, 2011, and only discovered the bribes that fall.

The former ambassador fiercely denies he and his wife did anything wrong. Ms. Niam formally asked the embassy for a meeting between Griffiths Energy and Chad's president, Idriss Déby, said Mr. Bechir, who approved the meeting. He said he did so because he could not turn down former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, who attended the meeting with Griffiths Energy. There is no suggestion or evidence Mr. Chrétien was involved with or knew about the illegal payment.

While sources say Griffiths Energy is eyeing a listing in London because investors there may be more comfortable with its assets in Chad, Canadian investors have long supported resource companies with projects in far-flung and unstable parts of the world.

Griffiths Energy expects to start pumping oil from the ground at one of its properties in the second quarter. It has the rights to develop resources on a combined area of 26,103 square kilometres in southern Chad.

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About the Author

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

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