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Nigeria state-oil firm denies owing gov't billions

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* NNPC accused of owing $8.3 bln from oil sales

* State oil firm says audit "inaccurate and misleading"

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Nigeria's state oil company rejected on Monday an audit by a government agency accusing it of owing billions of dollars to the state coffers in missing oil and gas revenues.

The audit released last week by the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) - which has a mandate from the global EITI scheme - found that the state oil firm owed 1.3 trillion naira ($8.27 billion) from crude oil sales between 2009 and 2011, echoing conclusions to several probes last year into the country's opaque oil and gas sector.

"The report contains fundamental inaccuracies which are misleading and constitutes misinformation to the generality of the public," the NNPC said in a statement.

The firm said it paid back 928 billion naira of this debt in first quarter of 2012, within its allowed 90 day payment period.

But it was disputing the remaining 377 billion naira debt, because it had never been reimbursed an equivalent amount that it had been owed for domestic fuel imports between 2004-2005, which it said should be deducted from the total owed.

Transparency International ranks the NNPC, which is at the heart of Africa's biggest energy industry, as one of the least transparent oil companies in the world.

The company denied several other points in NEITI's audit, including that it underpaid the government 98.3 billion naira by applying favourable exchange rates when calculating crude oil sales. The NNPC says it always uses the official exchange rate.

NEITI's audit said NNPC owed $4.84 billion in dividends and loan repayments from the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) export business between 2009-2011, and a further $3.99 billion in NLNG funds from previous years going back to 1999.

NNPC did not comment in its statement about NLNG debts. ($1 = 157.25 naira) (Writing by Joe Brock; editing by Tim Cocks and James Jukwey)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130204/nigeria-state-oil-firm-denies-owing-govt-billions