MOSCOW, September 29 (Itar-Tass) — On Tuesday and Wednesday the European Commission has made large-scale document confiscations in the offices of the subsidiaries of the Russian gas giant Gazprom in ten countries. The searches were made within the investigation into probable violations of the competition rules in gas supplies.
Gazprom Germania and Vemex (the Czech Gazprom subsidiary) were inspected, the German energy giants E.ON Ruhrgas and RWE were also checked, the Moskovsky Komsomolets writes. Gazprom and its partners are suspected of abusing the dominating position on the European market. This results in overstated retail prices. Though on Wednesday spokesperson for the European Commission Amelia Torres stated that the investigation was just launched, the Gazprom subsidiaries are facing fines of ten billion dollars. The Russian Energy Ministry and Gazprom pledged to help in the investigation and hope for the lawfulness to be observed.
A leading expert from the center of political climate Dmitry Abzalov, cited by the Novye Izvestia, assumed that “it is quite probable that the searches are being held within the campaign to put into practice the third anti-monopoly energy package of the European Commission.” Under the third package energy companies, which operate in the European Union, should divide the types of their activities – production, transportation and the sale of raw materials. Meanwhile, Gazprom is a vertically integrated concern, which has a full cycle from gas production to the supplies for European consumers. Europe takes it as “a Russian expansion,” which is fraught with the gas price growth, and is seeking to resist it.
Gazprom supplies about 30% of gas, which Europe imports, and has regular conflicts with consumers over gas prices and on the terms of supplies, the Kommersant notes. The authorities of many EU countries made claims to the Gazprom monopoly position on the European market. However, Gazprom did not see such a large-scale pressure on its business and its partners in Europe until recently. The problem is that the European Commission received unilateral access to the terms of Gazprom contracts with the clients in Europe, that is to say, to the information, which the monopoly had always classified in order to rule out a possible pressure on its business.
The searches can also have a negative impact on the implementation of the South Stream gas project, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes. The shareholders’ agreement to implement the foresaid project was recently signed and despite some difficulties with final agreements on the project route, South Stream is being implemented much quicker than its potential rival – the European project Nabucco. “The inspections in European companies, which cooperate with Gazprom, may delay final decisions on the South Stream gas project,” the director of the department in the company 2K Audit – Business Consultations/Morison International Alexander Shtok presumed. “As the guarantees lack that South Stream does not violate the EU antimonopoly laws Gazprom partners in Europe can freeze it up,” Shtok said.
“But if it turns out that the violations were systematic, various instructions to stop the monopoly activities may follow, including the sale of Gazprom stakes in these companies or their division and even liquidation. The harshest sanction can be criminal responsibility of these organizations or their officials. In this case Gazprom will not only sustain losses as a result of losing its monopoly position and the payment of fines, but its reputation in Europe will be seriously undermined,” the RBC daily quotes a lawyer of the legal consulting company Yukov, Khrenov and Partners Vasily Vasilyev as saying.