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Analyst Expects Ashland Oil to Weather Storm

Reuters

The arrest of Ashland Oil Co. former Chairman Orin Atkins on charges of stealing company documents and plotting to sell them to Iran is the latest incident highlighting the serious troubles the biggest independent U.S. oil refiner endured earlier in the decade.

But an industry analyst said Monday that the weekend revelation of Atkins’ secret arrest and innocent plea last July should have no impact on Ashland’s current management, headed by Chairman John R. Hall, who has undone much of his predecessor’s work since assuming the helm in 1981.

“Ashland is a very strong company and is going to get through this in very good shape,” said George Gaspar of Robert W. Baird & Co. of Milwaukee.

Just last month, Ashland agreed to a $25-million settlement for two former executives who sued the company claiming that they were wrongfully ousted in 1983 for refusing to bribe foreign officials to obtain crude oil during Atkins’ tenure and then refusing to cover it up when questioned by investigators.

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The settlement, which Ashland said will depress its profits by 22 cents a share in the fourth quarter ending Sept. 30, came after a federal jury awarded the pair nearly $70 million in June.

Ashland spokeswoman Margaret Thomson said the company had cooperated all along with federal agents investigating Atkins and others in the alleged document theft conspiracy.

Hall said in a weekend statement that “we are absolutely outraged by the conduct alleged in these charges.”

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