The return of Roger Tamraz

The return of Roger Tamraz

Lebanese Financier Roger Tamraz is out to put his famed midas touch to test in the wide expanse of former Soviet Union republic of Turkmenistan. After five years of avoiding the limelight, Tamraz has surfaced in Turkmenistan, owning oil and gas concessions reputedly worth $1.5bn and hot in pursuit of financial backers to build a crude oil export pipeline.

This could be the ticket to return for the Egyptian-born Tamraz back to the centre stage, after he fled Beirut in 1989, wanted by the authorities for financial irregularities which led to a major banking crisis.

The Lebanese authorities claim that Tamraz, as president of Almashreq Bank, then the second-largest bank in the country, was responsible for the disappearance of some $154m, causing its collapse. Although 54-year-old Tamraz claims the charges against him are politically-motivated, he still cannot visit his homeland and resides in Paris.

No matter how high the odds, Tamraz has always managed to find strong and wealthy backers.

The Japanese investment house Daiwa has committed itself as the financial adviser to Oil Capital, Tamraz’s New York-based company. Just as important, Tamraz has persuaded some American financial institutions to show interest in the $1bn pipeline project.

A Harvard Business School graduate, Tamraz in the late 1960s and early 1970s used his contacts in the Shah’s Iran to get American Transcontinental Pipeline a deal to liquefy natural gas in Iran. In post-Nasserite Egypt, he helped Bechtel Corporation clinch the bid for the Suez-Mediterranean pipeline over a consortium of 11 European firms, before the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

At the time of the oil embargo, Tamraz was a self-assured 33-year-old investment banker working at the Wall Street firm of Kidder, Peabody which put together the 1973 plan to build and finance the Suez Canal pipeline. He then quit Kidder the following year, and with $1bn in capital from Middle Eastern investors proceeded to buy oil refineries and later Amoco’s refinery and gas stations in Italy, giving his name to Tamoil group.

The Lebanese government hired him in 1983 to rescue Almashreq Bank. After all, Tamraz had first made his name at Kidder after rescuing Lebanon’s Intra Bank in 1966.

Now, while trying to peddle a share in his concessions, Tamraz is negotiating with Turkish and Iranian officials to establish a pipeline across Turkey and Iran to carry the Turkmenistan oil to ports through Iran.

But the combination of his absence and the charges for siphoning money away, weigh heavily against him. “Tamraz has been out of the picture for a while,” one oil industry source said. “He may find it tougher than before.”

COPYRIGHT 1995 IC Publications Ltd.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning