No case to answer

US authorities should stop going after oil giant BP and its bosses. It’s not been a good week for BP chief executive Lord Browne. Not long ago, he was being hailed as possibly the greatest boss of all time, given the way he has transformed the company into a world beater, slashing costs and raising profits year after year. Some experts were even comparing him to Jack Welch.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  September 3, 2006

|~||~||~|US authorities should stop going after oil giant BP and its bosses. It’s not been a good week for BP chief executive Lord Browne. Not long ago, he was being hailed as possibly the greatest boss of all time, given the way he has transformed the company into a world beater, slashing costs and raising profits year after year. Some experts were even comparing him to Jack Welch. But as we report this week, BP has been ordered by United States regulators to give evidence over possible insider trading in the world crude oil price. The suggestion is that BP’s energy traders, who buy and sell oil, used inside information about the company’s operations to profit from changes in the oil price. The company’s executives are also being summoned before Congress next week to explain why pipeline problems have forced the shutdown of half the Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska. Not to mention a threat to make Lord Browne of Madingley give evidence over a 2005 refinery explosion in Texas that killed 15 people. The company also faces a civil action initiated by the CFTC over alleged manipulation of propane gas prices as well as an investigation by the US Department of Justice into petrol trading during 2002. For an increasingly embattled George Bush, all of the above makes great sense. With petrol pump prices shooting up, nothing goes down better in the US than bashing the big oil companies – and bosses. Given the fact that taxes are up and spending powers reduced, making Lord Browne the whipping boy of US politicians is a natural and unsurprising move. But it is also a wrong one. Anyone who knows anything about the industry knows that it is quite common for the trading departments of major oil companies to act in the commodities market before certain operational information is made public. Traders are regularly encouraged and expected to cover the company for potential losses. The idea that this is some kind of insider trading is absurd, almost laughable. The attention of US authorities is not just an unwarranted distraction, it could inflict serious long term damage on the company, and threaten its status as the world’s second biggest oil company. Were that to happen, the biggest loser, ironically, would be US consumers.||**||Sad loss|~||~||~|It is not often I use this column for obituaries, but it would be wrong not to mention the sad passing away of Naguib Mahfouz, the first and only Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died last Wednesday in Cairo at the age of 94. As some readers will know, the Nobel Prize he won in 1988, brought to notice a man who had already established himself as one of the Middle East’s finest and most influential writers. He became a strong voice for moderation and religious tolerance. Sadly in 1994, an attacker stabbed the then-82-year-old as he left his Cairo home. Although Mahfouz survived, he struggled to carry on writing because of nerve damage to his arm. Undoubtedly his work, which for the most part depicted Egyptian life, had great influence not just on the world of literature but on many millions around the world who followed him. He had been admitted to hospital over a month ago following an injury to his head. ||**||Healthy start|~||~||~|For too long the Arab world has been hearing about the diabetes epidemic in the region – and done absolutely nothing about it. Until now. As we reveal elsewhere in this issue, UAE doctors and patients alike are set to reap the benefits of a world-class diabetes facility, due to open its doors within the next two months. The Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC), a joint venture between the Imperial College and local company Mubadala Development, has some great plans for the region. These will include, at long last, putting together UAE’s first regional diabetes database and headlining a nationwide public awareness campaign. As this magazine has reported many times before, diabetes is not only a major health issue, but its ripple effects throughout the region are staggering – and could cost US$5 billion a year. And all the signs are that the disease is on the increase, in some areas by 10% a year. Something needs to be done, and done now. This is a fresh, much needed start. ||**||

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