ECONOMY

ELPE may seek foreign partner, will tidy up practices

State-controlled Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), Greece’s biggest refiner, will seek a foreign buyer for a minority stake, if the Latsis Group, whose Petrola refinery merged with ELPE last year and which has a priority option, decides not to exercise it, the corporation’s chief executive said yesterday. «If the government decides to auction the 8.2 percent of its share capital (of convertible bonds which mature on July 28) and if the Latsis Group is not interested, a foreign company could enter ELPE for cooperation mainly in hydrocarbon exploration and development,» said Timos Christodoulou in his first press briefing since assuming the post. He said there has been no relevant discussion of the issue with the government to date. Christodoulou, a former economy minister and Bank of Greece governor, hinted at mismanagement and untransparent methods by his predecessors. «I do not intend on leading an enterprise with such a reputation,» he said, adding that a body of inspectors would be set up in the corporation to deal with such practices. Christodoulou said he had indications that some of ELPE’s investments abroad in recent years lacked a rational basis and did not rule out that the corporation may withdraw from some of them. But nothing has yet been decided, he said. ELPE has been criticized, among other reasons, for overspending in its acquisition of Montenegro’s Yugopetrol petroleum company and BP’s network of gasoline stations on Cyprus in 2002. Christodoulou said ELPE’s strategic goals included a rise in investment. He said recent rises in fuel prices reflected international movements, saying that refiners did not «play games in the market» and that their pricing policies were based on internationally acceptable methods. He acknowledged, nevertheless, that market competition was partly tempered by collusion practices in pricing among firms and that there was a tendency for prices to be rounded off upward. Competition should be much stronger and that the Competition Commission must look into the matter. Finally, Christodoulou said the company is looking for a managing director with experience in the petroleum products sector, but no great interest has been forthcoming. ELPE posted a 37.5 percent jump in group pretax income to 297 million euros in 2003, under International Accounting Standards.