Rig owner holds closed-door meeting in Switzerland

Transocean Ltd. president ignores press, speaks to shareholders. Company issues $1 billion dividend

Published May 14, 2010 5:40PM (EDT)

The chief executive of Transocean Ltd., owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, held a closed-door meeting with shareholders Friday, just days after appearing before the U.S. Congress to explain his company's involvement in the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Steven Newman ignored questions from reporters as he arrived and left the Park Hotel in the Swiss town of Zug, a few miles (kilometers) from the company's headquarters.

In a terse statement sent after the Zurich stock market closed, Transocean said it would distribute some $1 billion in dividend to shareholders, or about $3.11 per share.

The company's stock has lost about a quarter of its value since the oil spill and closed 2.6 percent lower on the Zurich exchange Friday at 74.10 Swiss francs ($65.62).

Transocean moved to Switzerland two years ago to protect its low corporate tax rate, and few in the city had heard of the company, even three weeks after the April 20 blast that resulted in more than 4 million gallons (15 million liters) of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from the well drilled by the BP-leased rig. Eleven workers were killed in the explosion.

Local resident Boris Zelic expressed surprise that the company with a market capitalization of some $21 billion was based near Zug. The canton (state) of the same name is home to hundreds of international holding companies that pay little or no income tax on their foreign earnings.

Another resident, Dolphi Mueller, said he'd heard of Transocean but hesitated to blame it for the incident. "It's probably not their fault. It was a higher power," he said.

A planned protest by local environmental groups was called off because they didn't receive police permission to hold a demonstration.

Rupan Sivaganesan, a Green Party legislator in the cantonal (state) parliament, said activists would picket the company's headquarters in nearby Steinhausen on Saturday.

Jo Lang, a prominent national lawmaker for the party, said he plans to introduce a motion in parliament calling for any taxes paid by Transocean in Switzerland last year to be donated toward helping those who suffered as a result of the rig disaster.

The amount is likely to be symbolic, as Transocean pays hardly any taxes in Switzerland.

"We want to show that the oil spill in the Gulf reaches all the way to Zug," Lang told The Associated Press.

By Frank Jordans

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Gulf Oil Spill