ECONOMY

Police, workers clash outside ELPE’s AGM

Yesterday’s annual general meeting of Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) shareholders had a rather mundane agenda – approval of a 0.12 euro dividend per share for fiscal year 2001 and of a proposal not to increase its stake in the public gas company (DEPA) in return for an infusion of 58.7 million euros from the State. The meeting, held at a downtown Athens hotel, was enlivened, however, by a sizeable police presence, preventing employee shareholders from entering the venue. The resulting scuffles delayed the beginning of the AGM by several hours. ELPE chairman Giorgos Moraitis deplored the violence and said such a strong police presence was unnecessary. He attributed it to «excess fears» on the part of hotel management. Moraitis’s intervention calmed things down and ELPE management was able to present its report on 2001. It reported a 67.8 percent drop in 2001 consolidated pretax profit to 97.7 million euros year-on-year, mainly because of reduced refining margins. Moraitis said profit is set to rise this year. First-quarter results already show a 23.31 percent increase in turnover compared to the same period in 2001. However, things got tense again when management presented its proposal to forgo an increase in ELPE’s current 35-percent stake in DEPA. George Kousoulakos, general secretary of the Finance Ministry and the representative of ELPE’s majority shareholder, the State, said the decision was political, because the government wants to open up the energy market and wants a strategic investor in DEPA. This did not sit well with employee representatives, who are also opposed to an eventual privatization of ELPE. Union president Nikos Orfanos announced that he would challenge the decision in court, because it hurt the shareholders and ELPE’s growth prospects. Earlier, Kousoulakos had said that the amount of 58.7 million euros will be paid to ELPE in two tranches, with the first payment taking place by the end of 2002 and the rest during the first half of 2003. The dividend of 0.12 euros per share translates into a 1.9 percent yield based on Monday’s closing price of 6.26 euros.