Thursday, 15 February 2007

Russian watchdog bares teeth at Gazprom

By Jason Corcoran in Moscow

Financial News

The head of Russia’s anti-monopoly regulator has set himself on a collision course with Gazprom by promising to oppose the energy group if it attempts to take over Russia’s largest independent gas producer, Novatek, and other domestic production assets.

In an interview with Financial News, Igor Artemyev, the director of the Federal Antimonopoly Service, said new anti-trust laws would give the commission more teeth. He said: “We will try to prevent Gazprom from buying Novatek. If they try to buy even a blocking stake, we will try to stop them from doing that.”

The main shareholders of Novatek, in which Gazprom has a 20% share, were reported by Russian media in the past week to be considering the sale of their 49.4% holding.

Artemyev said Gazprom would not be deregulated while the government was engaged in breaking up other natural monopolies.

He said: “The UES electricity monopoly, which is headed by Anatoly Chubais, will be replaced by 1,000 new companies. Gazprom is the only natural monopoly left that takes over private companies. It’s the opposite of the trend but these new laws give us the weapon to change the situation.”

The FAS wins 80% of lawsuits it takes up but only 30% when it comes up against Gazprom.
The laws will allow the FAS to take legal action against government officials and fine offending companies up to 4% of revenues, a 10-fold increase.

Artemyev, brought into the cabinet by President Vladimir Putin from the opposition liberal party Yabloko in 2004, sees little need for intervention in Russia’s fast-growing financial services.

He said: “More new and flexible banks are conquering the markets. When we join the World Trade Organisation, it will change the essence of our financial system.”

He said the FAS intended to approve the merger of aluminum companies Rusal and Sual in coming days, although tough conditions would be set.

According to Artemyev, the anti-monopoly service has been able to start operating properly because of the wane in influence of oligarchs.

“I think the president, the parliament and the government are playing a different role than 10 years ago,” he said.

February 12, 2007

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