Chinese companies, widely present in Iran thanks to the vaccum created by the departure of Western firms, dominated the Iranian oil, gas and petrochmemical exhibition that began Friday, an AFP reporter said. \"This year, 166 Chinese companies are present at the fair compared to 100 companies last year,\" a senior oil ministry official said. \"The number of foreign companies are up 35 percent,\" to 496 out of the total 1,550, he said. He said that despite UN sanctions and bilateral punitive measures by the United States and the European Union against Iran, \"Germany is present with 64 companies, Italy with 36, Britain with 37, Spain with 14, France with 15 and South Korea with 33 companies.\" Major Western energy groups such as Total of France, Norwegian Statoil and OMV of Austria, who have withdrawn from Iran, made a \"symbolic\" appearance at the fair. In recent years, Chinese companies have claimed many contracts since Western firms exited Iran before the sanctions were imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme. \"The strong participation of foreign companies is a response to the illusion of (Western) sanctions,\" quipped the oil official. The UN Security Council imposed its fourth set of sanctions on Iran in June last year which were followed by other bilateral measures. The separate sanctions by the United States and the European Union bar foreign companies from investing in Iran\'s energy sector. Iran is OPEC\'s second-largest oil exporter, with production of 3.7 million barrels per day. Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi said earlier Friday that the country has \"oil reserves of around 155 billion barrels and 33 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves.\" He also said that, by 2015, Iran would invest \"$150 billion (104 billion euros) in upstream and $50 billion in downstream\" projects to develop its energy sector.