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Gazprom may buy gas company DEPA from cash hungry Greece

Gazprom may buy gas company DEPA from cash hungry Greece
Russian energy companies Gazprom and Negusneft are among the main bidders for Greece’s state –owned gas operator DEPA. The deal is largely expected to bring Greece between €500mn and €1bn, which could make a small dent in its huge debt.

Azerbaijan's SOCAR, as well as two other Greek consortiums are also on the DEPA short list, as the deadline for accepting preliminary applications expired on Tuesday. The Greek Government plans to sell its entire 65% stake in the gas company, as well as the remaining 35% owned by Hellenic Petroleum by the start of 2013.

The deal enters a livelier stage right before Greece is set to vote on another austerity package on Wednesday. Athens has already received €240bn in loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, and international creditors are insisting Greece should tighten its belt further in return. The next €31bn tranche of bailout funds would cost Greece €13.5bn in wage cuts and tax hikes by 2016. The looming austerity caused massive protests across Greece, with the 48-hour strikes having almost paralyzed the country.Public transport, schools and air traffic control were shut down, and hospitals are also working with skeleton crews. News broadcasts and publications were halted as journalists joined the nationwide strike.

Given past rows with Ukraine over gas deliveries to Europe Russia’s interest in the region’s energy players looks logical. But the deal is likely up against serious hurdles from the EU. It is seeking to cut its energy dependence on Russian resources. At the moment the Union is monitoring Gazprom for price manipulation, while the third energy package bans the Russian gas monopoly from controlling European pipelines.

Among other contenders for the Greece’s gas asset were Italy's ENI, French EDF's subsidiary Edison, and Spain's Gas Natural and Enagas.

The sale of DEPA comes as part of Greece’s broad privatization plan, which includes the sale of the betting company OPAP and prime real estate projects. Through privatization the country hopes to raise up to €11bn by 2016.