Three major European players interested in 17% DESFA stake

Azeri energy company Socar appears prepared to accept acquiring a 49 percent stake in DESFA, Greece’s natural gas grid operator, instead of 66 percent as had been originally agreed through an international tender, while a third party is expected to acquire the surrendered 17 percent stake in the gas company, according to energypress sources.

Three European energy companies have expressed an interest in purchaisng this 17 percent equity share of DESFA, the sources noted. One of these ranks as a leading operator in Europe.

Latest developments indicate that the Azeri company has agreed to acquire a reduced 49 percent stake in DESFA, a position unofficially supported by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition, whose investigation of the sale, launched last November over EU security and competition concerns, delayed the process.

The DESFA sale ended up being stalled in January and its prospects for completion appeared all but over as Azeri officials clearly expressed frustration over the investigation and the delays it caused. Also, market conditions have changed considerably since Socar submitted a 400 million-euro offer some two years ago to acquire 66 percent equity share of of DESFA.

The latest plan for DESFA’s sale has been discussed with TAIPED, the State Privatization Fund, and a deal could be finalized by next month. Azeri officials may meet with Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panos Skourletis during the current week to discuss the matter. At this stage, officials are examining whether the deal would be legally valid should the original tender’s equity share-related terms be revised.

The sale of a reduced 49 percent stake of the gas operator to Socar and a further 17 percent to another company would prove expedient for the Greek government as it would collect the entire amount anticipated from the start. Such a solution would also suit the European Commission, which has not embraced the propect of a non-EU company acquiring a majority stake in an EU energy company.

Whatever the outcome, the true intentions of Azeri officials will be made clear by the end of this month, when the validity of a guarantee signed by Socar for completion of the deal within a two-year period expires. The guarantee was supposed to expire in June but was granted a two-month extension, until the end of August, to make up for the time lost as a result of last January’s elections.