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BP sells southern Africa fuel retail units

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London-based BP said it had agreed to sell its southern African forecourt network to international commodities trader Trafigura for $296 million, echoing a trend of big oil companies exiting fuel retail.

BP said it would will sell interests in forecourts and supply businesses in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi to Puma Energy, a unit of Netherlands-based Trafigura.

Europe’s second-largest oil company by market value is in the process of raising $25 billion to $30 billion by the end of 2011 to help pay for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Oil traders such as Trafigura have not historically involved themselves in fuel retail businesses, although the deal follows the sale by Royal Dutch Shell of 1 300 retail sites across Africa to Vitol, the world’s largest independent energy trader in July.

Analysts said owning supply networks could help oil traders to play arbitrage opportunities in energy markets.

The deal must be approved by local regulators.

Trafigura’s checquered past in Africa could be a barrier to this.

A Dutch court fined Trafigura €1 million ($1,3 million) in July for illegally exporting toxic waste to Ivory Coast which ended up being dumped in the open air.

Trafigura agreed in 2007 to pay a $198 million settlement to the Ivory Coast government which exempted it from legal proceedings in the West African country, but it denied responsibility for the dumping or any wrongdoing.

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