Amid confusion, State said to now control ELPE management

Yesterday’s appointment of a new board at ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) has prompted confusion as to whether the company’s management is now under the control of the Latsis Group, which holds a a 42.6 percent stake in ELPE, or the Greek state, which maintains a 35.5 percent equity share in the oil company.

Although the company’s previous board, led by Yiannis Kostopoulos, had been endorsed by the Latsis Group, well-informed sources insist that ELPE’s new administration is now under the state’s control.

Efstathios Tsotsoros, a trained electrical engineer and economist with a media background including a high-level post at Alpha TV, was appointed ELPE’s new chairman and Grigoris Stergioulis, a chemical engineer, has taken on the managing director’s role.

In remarks offered yesterday, government officials implied that the Latsis Group did not object to the new board, which was appointed by the government. This, however, does not mean that the Latsis Group was consulted prior to the decision. Kostopoulos, ELPE’s previous CEO, hailed from within the Latsis Group’s ranks.

Sources said the Latsis Group avoided offering resistance to ELPE’s new government-appointed board as the corporate group currently has its back up against the wall over a recent agreement with TAIPED, the State Privatization Fund, for the acquisition of a 62-hectare seaside expanse in Hellenikon, southern Athens, for just a fraction of its real value. The agreement is being probed. The property served as the old Athens international airport.

It should be noted that the administrative changes at ELPE come at a time when the government is believed to have focused its attention on the oil company’s considerable cash funds, totaling 1.8 billion euros. It has become somewhat of a common secret that the government wants to utilize part of this amount, as a short-term loan, to cover state needs.

Tsotsoros, ELPE’s new chairman, previously maintained close ties with the now-diminished PASOK party, a dominant force in Greek politics for the greater part of the past three decades. But the official has developed closer ties with the ruling leftist Syriza party in more recent years. Syriza party officials close to Lafazanis, the energy minister, consider Tsotsoros to be a proven and experienced administrator in both the public and private sectors. As for his track record in the energy sector, Tsotsoros spent a brief stint at the power utility PPC in the past.