Washington Babylon — March 31, 2008, 10:20 am

Murky InterOil

Last October, I reported here on the strange case of Interoil, a small firm that bought an Alaskan oil refinery from Chevron and shipped it 6,000 miles away to Papua New Guinea. Back in 1997, a subsidiary of Enron bought a big stake in InterOil, and two years later the firm got an $85 million loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)–a fraction of the $2.2 billion that Enron and Enron-linked firms sucked out of OPIC in loans and insurance.

One of InterOil’s investors and directors, by the way, is Gaylen Byker, a generous donor to G.O.P. candidates and causes. Byker is also the president of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 2005, President Bush delivered the College’s commencement speech.

InterOil planned to refine crude oil into gasoline in Papua New Guinea and had all sorts of other plans that were going to make investors rich. Instead, the firm has lost a pile of money, including a $28.9 million loss for 2007, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing from last week. Meanwhile, the company has $130 million in loans coming due in May and, “We cannot assure that our business will generate cash flow… to enable us to pay our maturing indebtedness.” Hence, the company may need to raise outside money to pay off the debt, but that “to some extent, is subject to general economic, financial, legislative and regulatory factors and other factors that are beyond our control. We cannot be sure that we will be able to obtain the refinancing or new financing on reasonable terms or at all.”

Even as InterOil’s economic prospects dim–its share price as of today was trading at about $17, down from about $44 last June–PIC has been remarkably generous in granting the firm a series of waivers and extensions on its loan payments. The new SEC filing reports that millions of dollars in principal payments due to OPIC during the past few months, have been deferred until 2015.

If mortgage brokers were this understanding, the housing crisis would be solved overnight.

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