Is Modi trying to help Trump through Petronet-Tellurian deal?

An Indian company is funding an LNG terminal in the US which will help create jobs in the USA in an election year. Tellurian was a sponsor of the ‘Howdy, Modi’ event

What’s cooking? PM Modi with President Trump at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, US. American natural gas company Tellurian was one of the sponsors of the event.
What’s cooking? PM Modi with President Trump at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, US. American natural gas company Tellurian was one of the sponsors of the event.

Ashlin Mathew

It is becoming clearer with each passing day that the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) deal between India’s Petronet LNG and US-based Tellurian Inc. is more political than good business. In fact, those associated with Tellurian have contributed to Donald Trump’s campaign through funding organisations.

According to the notification filed with BSE, Petronet has stated that it has signed a non-binding MoU with Tellurian to explore the possibility of purchase of up to 5 MTPA of LNG from Tellurian’s Driftwood project, concurrent with equity investment.

Tellurian, which was one of the sponsors of the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, is linked to Donald Trump in more ways than one. This Houston-based natural gas company was founded by Lebanese American Charif Souki and Martin Houston in 2016. In 2017, Tellurian had merged with Magellan Petroleum Corporation to become Tellurian Inc. Magellan Petroleum CEO Antoine Lafargue is Tellurian Inc’s Chief Financial Officer.

Martin Houston is also the advisory partner and chairman of global energy group at Moelis & Company. This company was founded and run by CEO Kenneth Moelis who has served as a banker to Donald Trump. He did it when Trump’s companies were facing bankruptcy, especially his casino, then called Trump Taj Mahal. Known to be cozy with Trump, Ken Moelis had helped launch Trump's casinos on the stock exchange.

Additionally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman chose Moelis & Co in 2017 to help them list five per cent of Saudi Aramco, the $355 billion behemoth, on the US stock exchange. It is estimated that the fees in the Aramco deal were in the three-digit millions. In fact, Trump’s first trip abroad after his election was to Saudi Arabia in May 2017.

Tellurian’s Republican connections

Tellurian also has a political campaign financing organisation – Tellurian PAC (Political Action Committee), which was incorporated in 2016, and has received $224,019 (Rs 1.6 crore) in funding. A look at the donor list reveals that most of those who have contributed so far to Tellurian PAC are the top management of Tellurian including Charif Souki and his brother Tarek Souki.

According to the data available until June 2019, it has contributed 59 per cent of its funds to Republicans and 40 per cent to Democrats. This PAC has funded several Senators who are known to be Donald Trump supporters, namelyTed Cruz, Orrin Hatch and John Barrasso.

At least $10,000 was given to the political action committee – Great America Committee – registered by Vice President Mike Pence.

The PAC was formed with the intention of assisting the political campaigns of Republican members of the Congress in their election and re-election efforts.

According to the Federal Election Commission, the Great America Committee has contributed to five federal candidates including US President Donald Trump.

At least $50,000 was donated to a Super PAC Louisiana Prosperity Fund which describes itself as Conservative. In the US political funding lingo, Super PACs are independent-expenditure only committees, which can raise unlimited sums of money and then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates.

What is Petronet LNG?

Petronet LNG is a joint venture government company set up in 1998 to import LNG and set up LNG terminals in the country. The JV is between GAIL India, Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL).

Petronet has two terminals, one in Gujarat, which is a joint venture with Adani Group, and the second is the Kochi LNG terminal.

The deal has raised eyebrows because an Indian company is funding an LNG terminal in the US, which will help the US create jobs in the year Trump is seeking re-election as US President.

Moreover, the deal was disfavoured six months ago by the Petronet LNG board due to changing global gas market dynamics, where the fuel is available in abundance at rock bottom prices. Locking imports for 40 years together with an equity investment in the LNG terminal was not favoured, they said.

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Published: 28 Sep 2019, 8:00 AM