(Corrects paragraph 2 to remove reference to funds being used to buy more assets)
LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - British oil and gas explorer Ophir Energy Plc is asking shareholders for over 550 million pounds ($830 million) to fund drilling projects in eastern Africa.
The company said proceeds from a placing and rights issue would beef up its drilling programme in Tanzania, Kenya and Gabon and help it to negotiate farmouts, or the sale of oil, natural gas or mineral interests to other companies, from a better bargaining position.
"The proceeds ... provide Ophir with the balance sheet both to execute a drilling programme of 10-15 high-impact exploration wells and to complete asset farmouts from a position of financial strength," the group's CEO, Nick Cooper, said in a statement after the markets closed on Monday.
Ophir said the placing is not conditional on the completion of the 2-for-5 shares rights issue.
Ophir proposes to place 19.8 million shares at 460 pence each and issue up to 168 million new ordinary shares in the rights issue, at a price of 275 pence, a 32.5 percent discount to the ex-rights price.
Separately, the company reported a larger pretax loss from continuing operations for the year ended Dec. 31.
The pretax loss from continuing operations widened to $40.9 million from $19.1 million as general and administration expenses more than doubled, driven by higher share option incentive costs as well as personnel costs related to an increase in headcount.
The company also said it would drill over 10 wells in 2013 targeting about 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent of net risked resource.
Shares in Ophir, which is backed by Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, closed down 1 percent at 461.7 pence on Monday. ($1 = 0.6635 British pounds) (Reporting by Lorraine Turner in London and Abhishek Takle in Bangalore; Editing by David Cowell and Leslie Adler)