ECONOMY

OKTA-ELPE dispute grows

A legal dispute between the government of the neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and the country’s biggest refinery, OKTA – 80 percent-owned by Greek State-controlled Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) since 1999 – appears to have taken a turn for the worse, with the prospect of a war in Iraq and an upheaval in the oil market, press reports in Skopje said. The government of Branko Crvenkovski, which took office last September, said it would fight corruption and challenged the legality of the ELPE-OKTA deal, claiming that its predecessor, headed by Ljubco Georgievski, had granted OKTA privileges that amounted to monopoly rights, and called for the revision of a number of articles. The country’s constitutional court ruled last month that OKTA’s right to import fuels and pay tariffs of only 1 percent while its main competitor, Mak Petrol, paid 19 percent, was unconstitutional. According to the reports, the latest twist emerged after the government asked OKTA to import finished products in order to ensure the existence of 90-day gasoline stocks. OKTA objected, arguing it already possesses large stocks of fuel oil that the government has not bought, according to commitments, and citing financial problems stemming from a recent, $13 million tax payment. Responding, the government has threatened to grant licenses to third parties to import gasoline worth $15 million. OKTA, in turn, disputes the government’s right to do this. Reports said that the country’s combined emergency stocks now amount to 30 days’ supply. Talks between the government and OKTA that began a few days ago broke off, apparently after making no progress. Consultations are expected between OKTA and ELPE in the next few days. FYROM’s economy minister, Ilija Filipovski, has said his government has sent the OKTA file to the European Commission, asking it to mediate with the Greek government to accept a compromise on the legal issue. The Commission has indicated that the terms of the 1999 deal violate the free market rules in FYROM, with which the EU has an association and stabilization agreement.