Greece to sell gas firm, grid operator this year: source

ATHENS Mon Aug 6, 2012 3:15pm EDT

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras addresses parliamentarians during a session at the parliament in Athens July 8, 2012. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras addresses parliamentarians during a session at the parliament in Athens July 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece wants binding bids for its state-owned natural gas company and gas grid operator by the end of September and hopes to complete their sale in late autumn as it revives its privatization drive, a government official told Reuters on Monday.

Hoping to regain credibility with international lenders keeping Greece afloat, the new conservative-led government has made speeding up privatizations a priority but has admitted delays from repeat elections in May and June.

After a meeting between political leaders and the finance minister on privatizations, the official said the government's priorities also included the sale of betting firm OPAP, the old Athens airport and buildings in Athens and on the islands of Corfu and Rhodes.

"What we're aiming for through the privatizations, apart from generating revenues, is to change the role of the state in the economy," the official said on condition of anonymity.

He said Russian, Italian, U.S. and French companies had expressed an interest in the natural gas company DEPA and gas grid operator DESPA.

Athens initially targeted privatization proceeds of 50 billion euros ($62 billion) by 2015 but cut the target to 19 billion euros after a making slow start on the program.

Former privatizations chief Costas Mitropoulos, who stepped down last month after accusing the government of hindering his efforts to sell assets, estimated that Athens would not raise more than 300 million euros from privatizations in 2012.

It had targeted 3 billion euros for this year.

More than 90 percent of the privatization program includes the lease and sale of concessions of state land and infrastructure, the government has said.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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