LONDON (Reuters) – A major trans-Caspian oil pipeline project to link Azeri oil fields with Turkey has secured over $1 billion in financing from a banking syndicate well ahead of schedule, a source close to the deal said yesterday. «The commercial syndicate for over $1 billion has been finalized and 15 banks will lend money to the project,» the source told Reuters. «By mid- to late January, it will all be stamped, signed and sealed.» The $1.02 billion loan ensures complete financing is in place for the one-million-barrels-a-day Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline project that will run from Azerbaijan’s Caspian oil fields via Georgia to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The pipeline project is already more than 40 percent complete and the first crude will flow through it in 2005. Leader of the $2.9 billion US-backed project BP started the syndication process in October and had expected to complete it in the first quarter of 2004. Japan’s Mizuho, Societe Generale of France, Dutch ABN Amro and US Citicorp lead the syndicate. The source said the syndicate had been willing to lend up to $1.8 billion to the project but the consortium had decided in the end to borrow $1.02 billion. «Each of the banks will lend $68 million,» the source said but declined to disclose loan terms. The other banks in the syndicate are Banca Intesa, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole Indosuez, Dexia, Hypovereinbank, ING, KBC, Natexis Banque Populaire, San Paolo IMI, Germany’s West LB and Royal Bank of Scotland. A BP spokesman declined to confirm the deal but said: «The syndicate was heavily oversubscribed and we are on track to finalize everything in January.» Apart from the syndicated loan and the amounts lent by the multilateral lenders, the project has received in the past $400 million from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC). The remaining funds will come from shareholder loans. Last month, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Finance Corp (IFC) cleared the way for loans totaling $500 million.