Socar boss set to meet PM in Athens for DESFA solution

Though unconfirmed by the Prime Minister’s office as late as yesterday, Socar president Rovnag Abdullayev and his associates are expected to meet with the Greek head of state Alexis Tsipras in Athens today in search of a last-minute solution for the troubled and long-running sale of DESFA, the natural gas grid operator.

According to sources, the meeting will take place without energy minister Panos Skourletis, who recently engineered and implemented a revenue-limiting measure for DESFA. This move has disgruntled officials at the Azerbaijani energy company, the winning bidder of a 2013 international tender offering a 66 percent stake of DESFA.

The Greek energy minister’s measure added to the unfavorable DESFA-related developments for Socar following European Commission intervention, last year, requiring the Azerbaijani company to surrender a 17 percent stake of DESFA to a certified European operator.

Abdullayev, at today’s meeting, will seek to iron out pending DESFA sale issues against the clock. A letter of guarantee provided by Socar expires in a few days, on September 30.

Certain pundits believe Abdullayev and his associates will genuinely seek a DESFA solution. Others contend that the Azerbaijani delegation’s decision to fly to Athens is merely being carried out as an effort to protect the energy company’s international reputation and wider business interests by creating an impression of its persistence for a solution until the very end, therefore sparing Socar of any responsibility for the privatization’s likely failure.

In recent months, the two sides have avoided direct contact, instead exchanging views through media reports. Over the past few weeks, both the energy ministry and government have sought to reestablish ties with Socar through various initiatives.