Taking on Total in South Sudan March 24, 2005

Phil Edmonds enters into controversial oil deal

Cricinfo staff

Phil Edmonds: oil baron © Getty Images

Phil Edmonds, the former England spinner turned entrepreneur, has taken the biggest gamble of his business career to date by striking a controversial oil-exploration deal in war-torn Southern Sudan, a region to which the French oil giant, Total, claims to have exclusive rights.

Edmonds is the frontman of White Nile, a small oil venture that has forged a partnership with the Sudan's People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), whose leadership has dismissed Total's advances and has been won over by the promise of immediate investment into a region that has been decimated by civil war.

"We have controlled this area for the last 20 years, we have fought for it," Costello Garang Ring Lual, a member of the SPLM's national executive committee told The Guardian. "For someone to think they can come in and take it is just wrong. The government in the north [Khartoum] knows we are right. The agreement is very clear."

White Nile's shares were frozen last month after rising 13-fold in less than a week - a remarkable rise that was reminiscent of the days of the dotcom boom. Their deal with the SPLM covers a 67,500km region which is believed could contain five billion barrels of oil, but though trading is set to resume next week, Total are breathing down White Nile's necks and the City remains skeptical about their credentials.

"Any oil leaving Sudan will subsequently have a freezing order placed on it by lawyers acting for Total," Simon Cawkwell, a city trader told The London Evening Standard. "The South Sudanese may claim to have authority to give out contracts but very probably haven't. Also, the place can't be regarded as peaceful yet."