Greece yesterday showcased the merits of DEPA to the nine prospective bidders who have expressed interest in acquiring a 35 percent stake in the gas utility. The wooing campaign underlines the government’s efforts to breathe life back into its ambitious privatization program following two high-profile setbacks earlier this year. Lengthy discussions on the sale of oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum and indebted flag carrier Olympic Airways fell through last month, dealing a serious blow to the government’s goal of raising close to 3 billion euros from its divestment program this year, which would be equivalent to about 2 percent of GDP. The sale of a 35 percent stake in DEPA could fetch at least 300 million euros for the state coffers, said Alexandros Boulougouris, energy analyst at P&K Securities. «Based on its 2001 balance sheet, DEPA has a book value of about 1.2 billion euros, so a 35 percent stake could raise a minimum of 300 million euros. This is a logical evaluation in view of the positive prospects in the natural gas sector,» he said. The State holds a 65 percent stake in DEPA, with a 35 percent share currently owned by Hellenic Petroleum expected to be transferred over to electricity utility Public Power Corporation shortly. In sharp contrast with other state utilities, DEPA’s privatization has drawn interest from a number of major European energy groups. French energy giant Electricite de France has teamed up with Edison Gaz of Italy to declare their interest, while local energy company Prometheus Gas and German gas supply company Ruhrgas are the other joint vehicle. Spanish gas distribution company Gaz Natural SDG SA, French groups Gaz de France and TotalFinaElf, Italian electricity company Enel, Italian oil and gas business Eni, Gazprom of Russia and Algerian national oil firm Sonatrach and state electricity monopoly Sonelgas round out the list. The nine bidders recently cleared the preselection stage. A short list of candidates is expected to be drawn up over the next six weeks, with the winning bidder to be announced in the summer. DEPA’s prospects are good, both on a domestic and regional level, said Managing Director Aristides Vakirlis. «By 2010, natural gas should cover some 17 percent of Greece’s entire energy needs, more than doubling to 37 percent by 2015,» he said. Sales are expected to increase as DEPA expands into the industrial and residential sectors. The company is also expected to play a prominent role in the region in line with Greece’s goal of becoming an energy hub for Southeast Europe. It has in recent weeks signed memoranda of cooperation with its Turkish counterpart BOTAS, Italy’s Edison Gas and the Iranian National Oil Company for the transportation of natural gas from central Asia to the European market.