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Secret Gazprom - OMV negotiations for Petrom privatization unveiled

de Radu Rizea
Luni, 31 martie 2008, 11:59 English | Business

In October 2003, OMV and the Russian natural gas giant Gazprom conducted secret negotiations for acquiring Romanian national oil operator Petrom as a consortium. Romanian daily Evenimentul Zilei exclusively unveils the content of the negotiations, as found in the letters sent by OMV boss Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer and one of the most influential Russian businessmen, Alexander Medvedev, Gazexport general manager and Gazprom board member. Gazexport acts as Gazprom's exports division.

In October 2003, when the privatization of Petrom was on the roll, Russian Gazprom and OMV (the company that ultimately bought Petrom), tried to form Petrom Holding, a consortium aimed at acquiring Petrom. In case the plan worked out fine, the Russians would have taken the company apart, dividing it so they take over all the natural gas operations through Gazprom and Marco Group.

The Romanian lawyers in the Petrom privatization were Cătălin Predoiu, now Justice Minister in office, and Ioana Racoţi, his associate.

OMV Austria communication manager Bettina Gneisz confirmed that OMV and Gazexport considered participating together in the bid, but OMV rapidly decided to bid on its own. Gneisz didn't offer any explanation on the reasons that determined this decision.

Key representatives of the Romanian state in the Petrom privatization were the public servant Dorinel Mucea, assisted by Credit Suisse First Boston, which was also represented by Bulgarian businessman Stamen Stantchev. Both of them are currently under investigation for several serious crimes, including espionage, treason and corruption.

The Petrom privatization contract is still subject for controversies, including several articles that are clearly against the interest of the Romanian state.

The OMV letter to Medvedev, in brief:

- OMV understands that Gazprom is mainly interested in the Petrom natural gas operation and less interested in exploiting and refining resources.
- OMV suggests 50:50 cooperation between Gazexport or other company owned by Gazprom and Petrom, a company that would become responsible for providing and selling natural gas in Romania.
- Gazprom may be the financial partner of OMV in taking over 51% of Petrom, for a future operational cooperation in gas business.

The letter Gazprom sent to OMV, in brief:

- Both companies would indeed benefit from the Petrom privatization.
- Gazprom will team up in the privatization with its partner in Romania, Marco Group, which controls three large companies: Conef, Alro şi Alprom.
- Gazprom agrees with the OMV proposal, as principle, but has several scenarios:

    - Putting up a company that would handle all Petrom natural gas reserves, controlled by Gazprom and Marco Group, with Gazprom giving up all its Petrom Holding shares.
    - In case such a separation of the gas operations would prove to be technically, economically or legally impossible, Gazprom would remain shareholder of Petrom Holding, but with the possibility to influence the gas business of Petrom and to sell the gas extracted by Petrom along with the Russian gas.
    - During the privatization, the cooperation would be best implemented through a consortium that will submit a single offer to acquire 51% of Petrom, with OMV leader of the consortium (75% - 1 share for OMV, 25% + 1 share for Gazprom and Marco group).

In all scenarios, the end of the operations is the same: Gazprom taking over all Romanian natural gas. The last point in the letter shows that, in case the first scenario becomes possible, Gazprom and Marco Group would own 50% + one share of the company that controls the natural gas operations in Romania, Petrom 25% - one share.

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