Kuwait oil minister quits ahead of parliament grilling

KUWAIT CITY (AFP) - Mr Hani Hussein, oil minister in OPEC member Kuwait, has resigned apparently to avoid being questioned in parliament over a US$2.2-billion (S$2.8 billion) penalty payment to US Dow Chemical and other alleged irregularities, a newspaper reported on Monday.

Mr Hussein told Al-Qabas daily he hopes "the new oil minister will provide the political cover for the massive change" introduced to the oil sector last week.

"I am comfortable by all standards, I have performed my duties... I hope the oil sector will be relieved of political pressures," he told the newspaper.

Al-Qabas said an official announcement of the minister's resignation will be made later on Monday.

In an unprecedented move last week, Mr Hussein reshuffled the oil sector, changing a number of leading executives at national oil company Kuwait Petroleum Corp and the chiefs of all eight KPC subsidiaries.

Mr Hussein, a veteran oil executive and the former KPC chief, has been oil minister for the past 15 months.

After the election of the new parliament in December, Mr Hussein was regularly targeted by a number of MPs over a variety of alleged violations.

A lawmaker filed to grill him in February but parliament agreed to delay the debate until the next parliamentary term in late October.

A second request to grill the minister was filed two weeks ago after the oil-rich Gulf state paid US$2.2 billion to Dow Chemical as a penalty for pulling out of a US$17.4-billion joint venture in December 2008.

The penalty was ordered by the International Chamber of Commerce, acting as arbitrator.

The move plunged Kuwait into renewed political crisis after two other MPs filed another request to grill the interior minister. The government boycotted parliament sessions on May 14 and 15 and all ministers offered to resign.

Al-Qabas said Mr Hussein was given the choice of facing the questioning in parliament due for Tuesday or resigning, and he chose the latter.