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Commisimpex seizes Congo Republic oil firm assets after French ruling, lawyer says

* Commisimpex seeking over $1.2 billion from Congo Republic

* Congo national oil firm SNPC had argued move was illegal

* Heavily indebted Congo in talks on debt restructuring

DAKAR, March 23 (Reuters) - Construction firm Commisimpex has recovered $30 million from a bank account in France of Congo Republic’s national oil company SNPC after a court ruling, the firm’s lawyer said, saying the decision could help other creditors go after SNPC assets.

Commisimpex, which operated in the Central African country from the 1980s until a Congolese court ordered its liquidation in 2012, has pursued Congo in European and U.S. courts.

The French appeals court ruled in January but the decision was not made public until Commisimpex recovered the funds.

“The court confirmed that the Congo national oil company equals or is the alter-ego of the Republic of Congo and if you have a claim against Congo, you can seize the assets of the national oil company,” Jacques-Alexandre Genet, a partner at Archipel law firm, who represented Commisimpex, told Reuters.

Commisimpex sequestrated the funds in SNPC accounts at pan-African lender Ecobank International in France. The national oil company argued in court that the move was illegal because it was a separate entity from the state with an independent management.

Commisimpex has won several decisions in its efforts to recoup debt it estimates at about $1.2 billion, including interest. Genet said Commisimpex had recovered about $40 million in ongoing procedures.

Congo’s government spokesman did not immediately respond to calls and an email requesting comment. SNPC and Ecobank International could not immediately be reached for comment.

In its January judgement seen by Reuters, the Versailles appeals court upheld lower court rulings, concluding that SNPC was an extension of the state. About 90% of state revenue comes from oil activities, mostly controlled by SNPC.

The heavily indebted country has been in prolonged talks with creditors over restructuring debt worth about $1.7 billion to help unlock bailout funds agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2019.

In February, the IMF said Congo’s debt, which soared to more than 100% of gross domestic product in 2020, was unsustainable.

Reporting by Bate Felix; Additional reporting by Julia Payne; Editing by Edmund Blair

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