Knut Sovold, chief executive of Africa-focused independent PetroNor E&P, has been detained by Norwegian authorities as part of an investigation into a potential "criminal offence, causing the company's share price in Oslo to plunge 15%.
According to Okokrim, Norway's National Authority for the Investigation & Prosecution of Economic & Environmental Crime: "The investigation is related to projects in Africa."
PetroNor operates or is a partner in multiple offshore licences in Congo-Brazzaville, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
In addition, two Senegal blocks originally awarded to PetroNor are the subject of a long-running arbitration process, while a deal to farm into OML 113 — which hosts the Aje field — in Nigeria has been delayed for some time.
Okokrim said "neither PetroNor E&P Limited nor any other company has been charged," adding that "the investigation is at an early stage and we have no further comment at this time".
In Sovold's absence, Jens Pace has been appointed interim chief executive of the Australia-domiciled company whose shares trade on Oslo's Euronext Expand platform.
Pace told Upstream: "From what the company understands, the reason (for the investigation) is criminal charges brought against individuals, and the company has not been informed of any suspicions against the company as such.
"I have been appointed by the board to act as interim chief executive during the investigation period in order to ensure that ongoing operations are well taken care of.
"The company will cooperate fully with the authorities in order to facilitate an efficient completion of the investigations."
Immediately after PetroNor announced Sovold's detention in mid-afternoon on 15 December, the company's share price plunged 15% from just over Nkr1.00 ($0.11 ) to Nkr0.85.
The stock price bottomed out at Nkr0.73 early on 17 December before recovering to Nkr0.81 later the same day.
PetroNor said: “The company has been informed that chief executive of PetroNor E&P Limited, Knut Sovold, is one of the individuals being detained as part of the authorities’ investigations to obtain information that may confirm or disprove a suspicion of a criminal offence.”
The company added that Okokrim officials had entered the company's premises in Oslo on 15 December.
News of Sovild's detention and the Okokrim probe came after the company announced, on 2 December, it was changing its country of domicile from Australia to Norway, with its shares to be admitted to Oslo's main bourse.
This redomiciling process had been expected to complete on or about 21 December.
However, on 9 December, PetroNor said "due to the timing of processes outside the company’s control, the completion of the redomicile process has been postponed until after New Year."
A second court hearing on the redomicile scheme was due to be held at the Supreme Court of Western Australia on 16 December, but this has now been postponed to 28 January next year.
Production comes from the Perenco-operated PNGF Sud licence in Congo-Brazzaville where earlier this month PetroNor said the Tchibeli North East project had been sanctioned.
The project calls for production to be routed through a newly installed mobile offshore production unit with oil transported to the nearby Litanzi platform for processing.
Development drilling is due to start after completion of the four-well Litanzi infill drilling programme.
PetroNor's other assets are exploration tracts — Block A4 in Gambia, blocks 2, 4A and 5A in Guinea-Bissau and the Rufisque Offshore Profond and Senegal Offshore Sud Profond blocks in Senegal — although the latter are currently the subject of arbitration.
At the start of 2021, PetroNor's proven and probable resources stood at 22.1 million barrels ,while production averaged about 3850 barrels per day of oil.
The company's net unrisked prospective resources have been estimated at some 4 billion barrels of oil.
Sovold has 30 years of experience in the oil and gas industry.
According to Sovold's LinkedIn profile, between 1998 and 2005, he worked as a reservoir specialist for Scandpower, Saga Petroleum, Norsk Hydro and PGS.
He joined AGR as a new ventures manager in 2005, before a one year stint at Netherlands-based Pangea LNG in 2012, a posting that coincided with a director role at D&H Solutions.
Sovold founded Hemla Energy in 2009 and was there until 2020, before being appointed chief executive of PetroNor in March 2020.
He holds an MSc in Petroleum from Trondheim's Institute of Technology in Norway.