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Timor-Leste pursuing unpaid taxes from oil and gas producers: report

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The government of Timor-Leste is pursuing unpaid taxes which it claimscould total as much as $3 billion from the ConocoPhillips-operated Bayu-Undanoil and gas project, according to a report from the Australian BroadcastingCorporation. Timor-Leste Finance Minister Emilia Pires told the ABC's Four Cornersprogram, which aired Monday, that her department had been conducting an auditof the taxes paid by oil and gas producers. Since the start of 2011, 28 casesof unpaid taxes have been settled, the ABC said.

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"We really started auditing in [the] beginning of 2011," Pires told theABC. "Since then to now, we've recovered or collected about $362 million justin the auditing exercise ... at the moment, our tax department is actuallylooking at the overall oil industry and asking the companies to justify theirexpenditure. And as of today [Monday], if they do not provide us all thejustification there's a potentiality of going up to $3 billion," she added.

"ConocoPhillips has paid and is up to date with all taxes assessed bythe government of Timor-Leste but is challenging the basis on which thoseassessments have been made as contrary to Timor-Leste's own tax rules and ourcontractual agreements with its government," the US major said in a statementin response to the ABC's report.

The Bayu-Undan field lies in the Timor Sea's Joint Petroleum DevelopmentArea, which is administered by both Australia and Timor-Leste under theTreaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea. A ConocoPhillipsspokesman told Platts that the company was operating within the parameters ofthe treaty and all other agreements reached with Timor-Leste and theregulator.

ConocoPhillips operates and holds 57.2% of Bayu-Undan, alongsideAustralia's Santos (11.4%), Japan's Inpex (11.3%), Italian major Eni (11%),and Japanese term LNG customers Tokyo Electric Power Company and Tokyo Gas(9.2%). The field produces condensate and gas, which is liquefied at theDarwin LNG plant in Australia's Northern Territory.

The ABC report also again aired Timor-Leste's call for the GreaterSunrise gas field to be developed via the construction of a pipeline to aliquefaction facility on its southern coast. About 20% of Greater Sunriselies in the Joint Petroleum Development Area.

The Woodside Petroleum-led Sunrise joint venture decided in April 2010that a 3.6 million mt/year floating LNG facility was the best commercialoption for the development of the field, in preference to its second choiceof piping the gas 500 km (310 miles) to a plant in Darwin. The third option,of building a 200 km pipeline across the deep Timor Trench to Timor-Leste,was the first to be ruled out by the proponents on the grounds of cost.

Francisco Monteiro, CEO of national oil company Timor Gas and Petroleum,told the ABC that studies carried out by Timor-Leste since 2007 had found itwas technically possible to lay the gas pipeline across what he said was nota trench but a "trough."

"Woodside, its joint venturers and the governments of Timor-Leste andAustralia are aligned in their desire to develop the Greater Sunrise fields,"a company spokesman told Platts in an emailed response to a request forcomment.

"We believe there remains an opportunity to agree on a development whichsatisfies the aspirations of all parties. The key to reaching this goal isregular, open and constructive dialogue between the parties," he added."Woodside recently submitted a range of requested technical data to theTimor-Leste government and we look forward to further discussion on thedevelopment of Greater Sunrise."

Sunrise is 33.44% owned by Woodside, alongside partners ConocoPhillips(30%), Shell (26.56%) and Osaka Gas (10%). The joint venturers have spent$400 million appraising the field and conducting final evaluations of theFLNG and Darwin development options.

--Christine Forster, christine_forster@platts.com--Edited by Geetha Narayanasamy, geetha_narayanasamy@platts.com