Argentina Is Planning 'Civil And Criminal' Penalties Against Oil Companies Exploring Near The Falklands

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Leandro Kibisz

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina is intensifying its campaign to block oil development in the Falkland Islands, announcing on Thursday it will pursue “administrative, civil and criminal” penalties against the dozens of companies involved.”We are going to defend the resources of the South Atlantic, which are the property of all the Argentines,” Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said at a news conference. He said that includes any oil found off the shores of the islands they call the Malvinas, which have been controlled by Britain since 1833.

Once the colonial subjects of Britain, the roughly 3,000 islanders now determine their own fate. Already, they have collected millions of dollars in licensing fees for oil exploration, and they’ve had their first major offshore oil discovery — last year’s Sea Lion strike that promises to deliver as much as 450 billion barrels of oil.

It was found by Rockhopper Exploration PLC, which has been seeking a $2 billion investor to fund production starting in 2016. The company has yet to announce such a deep-pocketed partner, but if and when it finds one, industry analysts estimate that a total of $10.5 billion in taxes and royalties would start flowing into the Falkland Islands treasury from the Sea Lion find alone.

Argentina, which lost a brief and bloody war against Britain for the islands in 1982, aims to keep that production from starting by any means possible short of violence or war, Timerman said, adding that his government will always follow international law.

Many financial documents dealing with oil in the islands already note the risks of drilling in territory also claimed by Argentina, but Timerman said Argentina will go to industry regulators in New York and London to make sure such warnings appear in the filings they require. He also threatened to take legal action against companies involved in the islands’ oil industry whereever possible.

“We won’t let one day pass in the courts without defending our resources,” Timerman said.

This April 2 marks the 30th anniversary of the Argentine dictatorship’s invasion and occupation of the islands, which lasted for 74 days before British troops ousted them in a brief and bloody war. It was a humiliating defeat for the military junta that hastened the return of democracy to the country.

But Argentines still consider the islands their lost province, and President Cristina Kirchner has pushed Britain for negotiations over their sovereignty in every possible international forum.

Britain, in turn, says there’s nothing to negotiate, since the islanders themselves will determine their future. Now citizens of a direct democracy with their own Falkland Islands Government, the islanders overwhelmingly want to maintain their ties to Britain and their status as a self-governing British Occupied Territory.

“These latest attempts to damage the economic livelihoods of the Falkland Islands people regrettably reflect a pattern of behaviour by the Argentine government,” Britain’s Foreign Office said Thursday. “From harassing Falklands shipping to threatening the islanders’ air links with Chile, Argentina’s efforts to intimidate the Falklands are illegal, unbecoming and wholly counter-productive.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in New York Thursday that he had discussed the conflict with U.S. President Barack Obama the day before — and that the U.S. clearly supports the status quo.

“I wanted to stress how important it is for Britain to set out how clearly we support the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future. They want to remain with us and that is very clear,” Cameron said as he wrapped up a U.S. visit.

“To me it is very important that we stick up for the right of self-determination, Cameron added. As the anniversary of the 1982 war approaches, he said he wants to send “a very clear signal to the rest of the world — Argentina and others — that while the Falkland Islanders want that status, Britain will help them keep that status.”


Associated Press Writers David Stringer in London and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

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