All sides avoiding blame for sinking DESFA sale attempt

The increasingly likely, if not already emerging, failure of the long-running attempt to sell a major stake of DESFA, Greece’s gas grid operator, has developed into a game in which all parties involved are seeking to avoid being held accountable.

Hopes to finalize the sale attempt – which has remained pending since 2013, when the Azeri energy company Socar agreed to purchase a 66 percent stake after winning an international tender before the European Commission intervened to demand that it surrender 17 percent to a certified European operator – now appear all but faded.

Yesterday, Anar Mammadov, the managing director of Socar’s local subsidiary, announced the company remains interested, while adding that Socar hopes the deal will be completed. This could be interpreted in a number of ways, judging by information that emerged on the sidelines of an energy conference in Athens yesterday, organized by TEE, the Technical Chamber of Greece.

Crucially, it became known that the board of Belgian company Fluxys, one of several companies considering acquiring DESFA’s 17 percent stake, has rejected a proposal to discuss the possible investment. According to unverified sources, Spain’s Enagas, another candidate for the surrendered 17 percent stake, remains interested, as does a Canadian fund, which had joined forces with Fluxys for this investment. Other sources said Italy’s Snam, whose initial interest had sparked the entire sale process, has decided to no longer consider the DESFA stake.

Latest developments, including the hesitancy, at best, shown by European candidates for Socar’s surrended 17 percent share, has led all sides to believe that this sale is now unlikely to proceed.

The Azeris, themselves, face serious economic issues as a result of the plunge in oil and gas prices over the past year and a half, which has battered Azerbaijan’s energy-dependent economy. Consequently, Socar, too, may no longer be in a position to buy into DESFA, but would rather conceal any responsibility. Besides wanting to protect the energy-rich country’s reputation, a letter of guarantee deposited by Socar would be forfeited if it officially withdraws from the DESFA deal.

As for the Greek side, the country’s officials, currently under pressure by the creditor representatives to generate and deliver privatization revenues, would not want to be blamed for not making a full effort to complete the DESFA sale.

Also, in the case of DESFA, the European Commission’s highly bureaucratic procedures in Brusssels can also be considered responsible for the failure to finalize a deal that could have been completed a while ago.