ECONOMY

Gov’t reiterates commitment to HELPE

Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday the government is not thinking of reducing its 35.51 percent stake in Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE), Greece’s biggest oil refiner, after the sale on Tuesday of an 8.21 percent interest to the Latsis group’s Paneuropean & Industrial Holdings. He said the sale, for 192 million euros, had been successful, and he ruled out the possibility of a future hostile takeover bid for HELPE by Latsis, which does not acquire any additional management rights. The government maintains the exclusive right of changes in management until 2008, he added. HELPE’s articles of association stipulate that the state holding in the enterprise cannot fall below 35 percent. The sale involved the transfer of 25.08 million shares – recently acquired by the Public Portfolio Management Company (DEKA) upon the maturation of a convertible bond loan for which it had put up the shares as collateral, and it raised Latsis’s holding in HELPE to 32.88 percent. Responding to questions, Alogoskoufis said the negotiations on the sale had not been made public in order to avoid speculation on the stock market and that the government intends to maintain the same tactic in the privatizations that will follow. «We shall proceed with privatizations but there will be no announcements in advance,» he said, adding that all proceeds will be used to reduce public debt. Earlier, the main opposition PASOK party’s spokesman on trade, Christos Papoutsis, accused the government of concluding the sale under opaque conditions as regards the expediency, methodology and calculation of the final price. The matured bond loan from which the sale resulted had also involved as collateral 3 percent of OTE Telecom’s share capital, which similarly came under government ownership recently. Alogoskoufis said the government will decide either to hold on to this block of shares or use it as collateral for a new loan. DEPA Alogoskoufis rebuffed recently expressed interest by HELPE in increasing its stake in the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA). «The government does not approve of the creation of monopolistic conditions and, for this reason, sets the terms of competition for the market to function smoothly,» he told reporters. HELPE currently holds a 35 percent interest in DEPA. Alogoskoufis predicted that if all goes well in the current negotiations on the sale of 35 percent of DEPA to Spain’s Gas Natural, a deal will be concluded in about mid-autumn. The government is pressing the Spaniards for changes in the initial memorandum signed by the previous government.