Snam officials in Athens this week for vital DESFA sale talks

Top-ranked officials at Italian company Snam, a key player in the effort to finalize the stranded privatization of DESFA, Greece’s natural gas grid operator, will visit Athens this week for talks, it has been confirmed.

Snam appears to have agreed to take on a 17 percent share of DESFA from Azerbaijani energy firm Socar following European Commission intervention. This would reduce Socar’s share of DESFA to 49 percent, if the deal is completed.

Brussels has issued a decision specifying that Socar, the winning bidder of a DESFA tender completed in 2013, must remain a minority shareholder of the Greek operator.

The Italian company’s role in the deal has acquired greater significance as a result of the increased likelihood of a withdrawal by Socar. The Azerbaijani company is dissatisfied by a network usage fee hike limitation recently imposed on DESFA by the energy ministry. The measure reduces the operator’s revenue potential.

Snam officials are expected to make clear the Italian operator’s position at the upcoming Athens meeting. Snam did not demand that the revenue-limiting measure be anulled when company representatives first met with Greek energy ministry officials over the DESFA sale about two months ago. This offers a glimmer of hope for the troubled deal.

Greece’s lenders, currently engaged in a review of bailout prior actions needed for the  disbursement of a subtranche of 2.8 billion euros, are applying pressure for an end to the long-running DESFA sale.

Snam could take on a greater share of the operator, roughly 30 percent, while ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) appears keen to maintain the 35 percent stake it holds in DESFA.

Belgian operator Fluxys, which had expressed an interest in DESFA in the past, may also enter the picture again.