NEWS

Friction over oil deal

The proposed merger of state-controlled Hellenic Petroleum with private rival Petrola continued to reverberate in Greece’s politics yesterday, with the government and opposition trading accusations of murky dealings with business interests. Compounding this was a petition by all of New Democracy’s 121 members of Parliament calling on the government to agree to a parliamentary inquiry into what they termed «the stock exchange scandal,» concerning the boom of 1999 and the continuing slide since then. A debate on the economy tomorrow is likely to be heated, focusing on the stock exchange and the ELPE-Petrola deal. «What is the government afraid of?» ND spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos asked. «No matter how hard they try, the truth will not stay hidden.» Government spokesman Christos Protopappas seized on a call by Vardis Vardinoyiannis, chairman of Motor Oil, for the opposition to do something about the ELPE-Petrola merger, which would leave his rivals with a 78-percent stake in the domestic market to his company’s 22 percent. «The masks have fallen and the political agents of various interests cannot act as judges of transparency,» Protopappas said. «Those who make claims of entangled interests are those who maintain steady and improper relations with various interests.» Vardinoyiannis responded. «Recently, some people – intentionally or irresponsibly – are trying to tie my name to corruption. I challenge them to present evidence of any specific instance of my entanglement with PASOK or New Democracy or any other party,» he said. «The ELPE-Petrola deal is a political act involving the national economy, the government and the opposition. Motor Oil will continue to have good cooperation with ELPE and Petrola.» Petrola, owned by the Latsis group, will pay 326 million euros for a 16.5-percent stake in ELPE and, after the merger, will hold 25.35 percent. This, the government says, will reduce the cost of products in Greece and allow the company to expand abroad, especially in southeastern Europe. Petrola said details of the share swap had not yet been determined and will be announced as soon as the necessary procedures had been completed, on the basis of «the capitalization of the two with regard to the average price of their stock over the 12 months ending May 29, 2003.»