Hungary to take over MOL's gas storage-paper

BUDAPEST Sat Oct 13, 2012 7:39am EDT

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BUDAPEST Oct 13 (Reuters) - Hungary's government prepared the ground to take over the strategic natural gas storage facility of oil group MOL with a new bill submitted to parliament, the daily Nepszabadsag said on Saturday.

The government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's centre-right Fidesz party has been tightening control over firms in the energy and other sectors, and is also seeking to take over the local gas business of E.ON.

The bill, submitted by Janos Lazar, the head of the Prime Minister's Office on Friday, gives pre-emptive buying rights to the state for stakes in companies running "safety natural gas storage".

It stipulates that such facilities must be owned by the state but can be operated by companies in concession.

Nepszabadsag said the bill meant that the government would take over the gas storage facility near the Southern Hungarian village Algyo, owned by MMFB, a firm under MOL's control.

Neither Lazar nor MOL officials were immediately available for comment.

The facility holds Hungary's strategic gas reserves of 1.2 billion cubic meters and the rest of its capacity, 700 million cubic metres is in commercial usage, Nepszabadsag said.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the proposed new rules would apply to other storage facilities including the gas business of E.ON. An E.ON official declined immediate comment.

Lazar said in the bill that stricter state control over strategic natural gas reserves would serve the interests of household consumers.

The Hungarian government has pledged to keep households' costs moderate in public utility sectors mostly owned by foreign firms, and has had conflicts with foreign investors by levying big special taxes on banks, telecoms, energy and retail firms.

It has bought back a 21 percent stake in MOL from Russian Surgut to cut foreign influence.

Facing elections in 2014, the government recently unveiled cuts in social taxes and has said it would not accept salary or pension cuts as the condition of aid on which it is in talks with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. (Reporting by Sandor Peto; editing by Keiron Henderson)

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