ECONOMY

HELPE seeks a part in talks to sell stake in gas company

Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE) has intervened in the negotiations between the government and Spanish company Gas Natural for the sale of a 35 percent stake in state-controlled Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), demanding a say before any decision is taken. According to government officials, HELPE’s management has written a letter to Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis asking to participate in the negotiations and complaining it is not consulted as a major DEPA shareholder as it should. HELPE has a 35 percent stake in DEPA, with the State controlling the rest. The State also has a controlling interest in HELPE, although a minority one. HELPE’s management considers that the company would suffer in the eyes of its own shareholders if it was seen to be sidelined. It further claims that the company’s development would suffer as a result. According to the same sources, HELPE proposes, in case its demand for equal treatment with Gas Natural – tapped to be the strategic investor that will take over DEPA’s management – is met, to acquire a further stake in DEPA should the government finally decide not to sell the remaining 30 percent of its stake to Public Power Corporation, the State electricity company. In that case, HELPE says, it is willing to buy a further 15 percent, raising its stake to 50 percent, and suggests that DEPA do the same. HELPE Chairman Timos Christodoulou and Chief Executive Panayiotis Kavoulakos had indicated, in their first press conference last month, that the company’s increased interest in natural gas is closely tied to the government’s plans for DEPA. Christodoulou and Kavoulakos stressed that natural gas must form part of the broader strategy of the group, which had decided to seek a more energetic involvement in DEPA. The current government, which came to power last March, had initially opposed the continuation of talks with Gas Natural, begun under the previous government, and has finally opted to go ahead, hoping to earn some 250 million euros from the sale. The Spaniards had also wanted guarantees that the legal framework governing the distribution of natural gas would not change.