Lukoil ups Balkan presence

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Russian major Lukoil said late on Monday it planned to boost oil product sales in Southeastern Europe, including Turkey, after modernizing its refineries in Bulgaria and Romania. Lukoil President Vagit Alekperov denied speculation his company may seek to acquire Romanian state oil firm SNP Petrom. Instead, he told Reuters, Lukoil would boost sales of oil derivatives once its Ploesti refinery in the country reopens in mid-2004. «We are considering widening our businesses to Turkey and Bulgaria, to sell oil derivatives,» Alekperov said. «We are also interested in the wholesale of our products in (the Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia.» Alekperov was speaking after meeting Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic. Lukoil last Friday signed a deal with Serbia to buy a 79.5 percent stake in Beopetrol, Serbia’s second-largest fuel chain. For Lukoil, the purchase signaled a westward expansion in a growing Balkan market. It was Lukoil’s first successful bid for a European firm since 1999, after it failed to acquire assets in Poland, Croatia, Greece, Lithuania and the Czech Republic. «After purchasing Beopetrol, we have secured our presence in the entire Balkans,» Alekperov said. Lukoil paid 117 million euros ($133.7 million) for Beopetrol and pledged to invest another 85 million euros over the next five years. However, Lukoil will not be able to sell its own oil products through Beopetrol as the Serbian market remains closed for such imports, giving leeway to the national monopoly to revitalize its outdated refineries. Lukoil also plans to upgrade its Bulgarian Burgas refinery in the fourth quarter of this year in line with European requirements on environmental friendly fuels, but will not shut it down completely.