Gazprom to hold new talks with EU on antitrust probe

BRUSSELS Wed Jan 22, 2014 1:02pm EST

Flags fly near an advertising screen displaying the logo of Gazprom company, in St. Petersburg, November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

Flags fly near an advertising screen displaying the logo of Gazprom company, in St. Petersburg, November 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Russian natural gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) will hold more talks with the European Commission on Thursday aimed at settling a European Union antitrust investigation, Russia's ambassador to the EU said on Wednesday.

The Brussels meeting between Russia's Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky, a Gazprom representative and EU antitrust officials will be the first since Gazprom offered last month to settle an EU investigation into its business practices, a person familiar with the matter said.

"On Gazprom, there is an antitrust investigation continuing within the Commission, and Gazprom and the Russian government, which is the key shareholder in Gazprom ... are involved in certain discussions with the relevant departments of the European Commission," Russian envoy Vladimir Chizhov told reporters.

"The next round of these discussions will be tomorrow and I don't want to prejudge the outcome of course," he said.

Asked if they were close to a solution, he said: "We are always close to solutions."

A spokesman for the European Commission declined comment.

The Commission is investigating Gazprom on suspicion it had hindered the free flow of gas across Europe and imposed excessive prices by linking the price of its gas to oil.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia expressed doubts last week about Gazprom's proposal to settle the probe, telling reporters he had not received any concrete offer from Gazprom that might lead to the company settling the case without any finding of infringement or a fine that could top $14.3 billion or 10 percent of its 2012 turnover.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to travel to Brussels next week for a twice-yearly summit with the EU.

While in Brussels on Thursday, Yanovsky will also meet the new head of the European Commission's energy department, Dominique Ristori, to discuss preparations for talks on another dispute between Russia and the European Commission involving the Gazprom-led South Stream gas link.

The European Commission and Russia agreed last week to set up a working group to discuss legal and technical issues related to the planned pipeline.

No timetable has yet been set for the working group's meetings, a European Commission official said.

The European Commission has said South Stream cannot operate on EU territory unless it complies with the bloc's energy law, and it could take years to do so.

According to the law, an owner of resources cannot also own the infrastructure through which they are shipped.

Russia has signed intergovernmental agreements with a number of countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy, on the South Stream pipeline, which from 2018 is projected to carry 63 billion cubic metres of gas a year from Russia via the bed of the Black Sea.

Moscow argues that those agreements trump EU rules.

(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Justyna Pawlak and Jane Merriman)