Greek DEPA chief resigns as Gazprom price cut talks near end

Wed Feb 5, 2014 1:46pm EST

* Chief of Greek natural gas distributor DEPA resigns

* Sachinis to join investment fund Global Finance

* Says resignation does not upset Gazprom price cut talks

By Harry Papachristou

ATHENS, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The chief executive of Greece's natural gas distributor DEPA, Harry Sachinis, said on Wednesday he was quitting to join an investment fund as talks with Russia's Gazprom over getting cheaper gas supplies near a conclusion.

"I received an offer to become partner at Global Finance some time ago, and now that negotiations with Gazprom are nearing their end I decided to accept," Sachinis told Reuters.

A former president at Platts and the McGraw-Hill Companies' Business Information Group, Sachinis said he will continue to act as DEPA chief until the Greek government replaces him.

Following his surprise departure, the energy ministry declined to say when this would be.

DEPA and Gazprom have been in talks for months as the Greek company has sought a price cut of about 20 percent, according to local energy industry sources. DEPA has threatened to go to international arbitration if no agreement is reached.

A source at Gazprom said on Friday the two sides had reached a preliminary agreement, but senior officials at both DEPA and Greece's energy ministry strongly denied this.

"It's not over but they're close and talks have also moved to a political level," Sachinis said, adding his departure should not be seen as a sign that negotiations would either fail or succeed.

The Greek government is eager to get a price cut to lower the energy costs of its crisis-battered companies and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras raised the issue last month in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Gazprom is DEPA's biggest supplier, accounting for about 60 percent of purchases.

DEPA was among the first European companies to obtain a rebate from Gazprom in 2011 but the Greeks are now seeking more.

Gazprom already has agreed to revise long-term gas supply contracts for some other big customers in Europe, where it generates around 55 percent of its revenue, and make "retroactive payments" to avoid losing business.

Under Sachinis's four-year leadership, DEPA, which has a monopoly in Greece's small retail market for natural gas, has survived the country's debt crisis without defaulting on its suppliers and kept wholesale competitors at bay. But it failed to find any buyers in a privatisation attempt that ended in fiasco last year. (Reporting by Harry Papachristou, editing by David Evans)