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4 Mar, 2009 19:19

Ukraine gas giant raided by armed security agents

Dozens of armed masked men have entered the headquarters of Ukraine’s national energy company Naftogaz in the capital Kiev.

The country’s security service said the agents had legal reasons for the raid, which was connected with a criminal case against the gas company.

Deputies from Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc made an attempt to enter the premises that were being searched but were stopped by the security service agents, which resulted in a scuffle.

Security service officials said the raid was aimed at confiscating documents relating to the criminal investigation of “misappropriation of 6.3 billion cubic metres of gas” by Naftogaz top officials.

According to the Naftogaz spokesman Valentin Zemlyansky, these included agreements with Russia’s Gazprom for supplies of natural gas to Ukraine and its transit across Ukraine in 2009-2011.

It was reported earlier that, based on the gas agreements between Russia and Ukraine, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and Naftogaz had announced the purchase of 11 billion cubic metres of gas earlier belonging to the Swiss-based gas trader RosUkrEnergo at US$ 153.9 per 1,000 cubic metres.

Timoshenko said on Wednesday that this gas had already undergone customs clearance. However, the security service has called this transaction illegal.

The security service has insisted that the investigation into the criminal case is proceeding under the supervision of the Prosecutor General's Office in strict compliance with the law.

  According to Ukrainian parliament deputy Andrey Portnov, all Ukrainian gas has been confiscated under the prosecutor general’s order.

Yushchenko signals approval

“President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko fully supports the actions of the security service, which has launched a criminal case against Naftogaz and customs officials, and is now investigating it,” announced Irina Vannikova, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian president.

Vannikova added that Ukrainian security service authorities keep the President informed on all the details of the case, Interfax-Ukraine news agency says.

“It is under Yushchenko’s personal control,” Vannikova said.

“The actions of the security service people are rather tough but the circumstances of the case demand that,” the president’s spokesperson added.

“The President is sure that it is necessary to display determination and persistence when investigating the discovered abuses. The period of weakness and professional apathy of the law enforcement bodies is over.”

Legal or illegal?

Meanwhile, the first deputy prime minister of Ukraine Aleksandr Turchinov has called on the staff of Ukraine’s security service not to fulfill ‘the criminal order’ concerning Naftogaz.

“You shouldn’t become the tools of criminals and corrupt officials who manage the country’s security service on the advice of Ukraine’s president,” Turchinov said.

He added that the main goal of the raid is to “seize the originals of documents on the company’s mutual exchanges with Russia’s Gazprom.”

These actions are a serious threat to the country’s national security, he said, and moreover, they may now face destruction.

There had been a plan agreed beforehand, Turchinov believes.

“When security service people appeared in Naftogaz, the deputy head of the company, Igor Didenko, was in the president’s secretariat. There his mobile phone was taken from him, so nobody could reach him on the phone for three hours,” Turchinov said.

Today Didenko – who now acts on behalf of the currently incapacitated head of Naftogaz Oleg Dubina, who is ill – was invited for a meeting at the president’s secretariat, but a little later the meeting was called off. Earlier, Taras Shepitko, a deputy chief of Regional Energy Customs division was detained in connection with the case.

Igor Didenko has already filed a complaint against launching the case to a Kiev district court, and the judge ruled to put on hold the investigation until the complaint is considered, Interfax-Ukraine informs.

Premier Minister Yulia Timoshenko said the raid is connected to the struggle for 11 billion cubic metres of gas that RosUkrEnergo also lays its claims to.

Timoshenko has promised that those who infringe on the state’s property “will get a rap over the knuckles” from her.

Timoshenko believes the aim of the raid was to disrupt the work of the company on the eve of paying millions of dollars of gas debts to Russia's Gazprom.

“Ukraine’s security service tried to paralyze the activity of Naftogaz, destroy the programme of providing the country with gas and disrupt mutual exchanges between Naftogaz and Gazprom. The Government won’t allow doing that,” she said.

Meanwhile, Itar-Tass quotes Bogdan Sokolovsky, representative of the Ukrainian President for international energy security issues, as saying that actions of the security service cannot prevent Naftogaz from paying to Gazprom, as the company’s assets at a bank account have not been frozen.

Gazprom worried

Gazprom is worried by the situation connected with the raid in the central office of the Naftogaz company by Ukraine’s security service, the press service of Gazprom said in an official statement.

“We hope that this event won’t affect the full and timely fulfillment of obligations by Naftogaz,” the statement added.

Itar-Tass news agency says that according to Naftogaz spokesman Valentin Zemlyansky, the company has already transferred to Gazprom the first tranche which constitutes about 80 per cent of the whole sum.

The remaining 20 per cent of payment for February gas deliveries will be transferred in the next few days, Zemlyansky said.

The Ukrainian company has to transfer $US 400 million to Gazprom by March 7.

Dmitry Babich Dmitry Babich from Russia Profile magazine says he's worried the event may lead to further internal conflict inside Ukraine.

“I think that before leading to a new dispute between Russia and Ukraine, it will lead to a new dispute between the President and the Prime Minister of Ukraine, and this dispute will be so huge that the dispute between Russia and Ukraine will look like peanuts compared to that,” Babich said.

“The main thing for Russia is to get its money. Certainly, Russia would not like to negotiate a new agreement because the latest agreement was signed, as far as I remember, just two days ago.”