ISTANBUL (AP) – Global Energaz was the highest bidder in an auction to buy one of Turkey’s state-owned natural gas networks, offering $1.61 billion (-1 billion) for one of the most valuable assets in the country’s privatization program. The process needs to be approved by a privatization board before Baskent Dogalgaz Dagitim AS, which operates the gas grid in Ankara, can be officially sold. The gas network has assets valued at $570 million (-370 million) and 1.1 million customers. The grid is one of the most valuable assets in an International Monetary Fund-backed privatization program that Turkey adopted after an economic crisis in 2001. Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek said some 3.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas was consumed in Ankara last year and estimated the consumption would double over the next decade. Gokcek said the operator of the grid will be responsible for distributing the gas but can also decide from where to import gas supplies. NATO-member Turkey depends mostly on Russia and Iran for natural gas, which it uses to heat homes and produce nearly half of its electricity. But gas flow from Iran has proven unreliable. Iran has cut gas supplies to Turkey several times during recent winters. Turkey is trying to become a major hub for natural gas bound for energy-hungry markets in Europe. A 300-kilometer Turkey-Greece pipeline to provide Caspian gas to the European Union while bypassing Russia opened in November. According to Turkey’s state-run media, six groups participated in the final round of the bidding. The groups were identified as Global Energaz, Akfen Holding, Calik Enerji, Gaznaturel-Nurol, Limak and Elektromed.