Russian oil group Yukos Oil is having second thoughts on its bid for a 23-percent stake in Greek oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), considering it too steep a price for its size, the Athens News reported yesterday. Yukos Oil’s withdrawal from the scene could leave the field clear for the consortium of Greece’s Latsis Group and Lukoil, the largest oil group in Russia, considered the front runner in the bidding for ELPE. Austrian oil company OMV is the third bidder. The English-language Athens News newspaper’s Moscow correspondent quoted unnamed sources close to Yukos as saying that the Greek market was too small and the volume of crude oil to be supplied by the Russian company too little to justify buying the ELPE stake. The sources also said that Yukos has no problem forking out the cash, but considered the money better spent elsewhere in Europe. The Russian company is currently involved in new refinery deals in Lithuania, Slovakia and Poland. The acquisition of foreign refiners is linked to its long-term goal of increasing the proportion of crude oil shipped under long-term contract to 70 percent by 2005 from the present 40 percent. Greek Development Ministry spokesman Lazaros Hatzinakos told Kathimerini English Edition that the ministry has not officially been told of Yukos Oil’s withdrawal from the bidding process. He said the company’s reported skepticism showcased its inability to come up with an appropriate business plan to support its offer. Media reports said the recent appointment of Giorgos Moraitis as ELPE chairman has led to a shift in the government’s outlook on the bidders, with the emphasis now spread equally between the candidates’ financial offers and business plans for the Greek refiner. The Development Ministry last week said it plans to proceed to the next stage of ELPE’s privatization process on March 8 by asking the three bidders to submit binding offers for a 23-percent stake.It also set an end-of-April deadline for completing the entire process.