* Watchdog finds 2,690 breaches of rules of 3 power firms
* To decide on distributors' licences after the EU vote
SOFIA May 14 Bulgaria's energy regulator said
it planned to fine foreign-owned power distributors CEZ
, Energo-Pro and EVN for more than
2,600 shortcomings in their operations since 2008.
The fines, which could total at least 50 million levs ($35
million), will be another blow to the power firms and send a
strong negative signal to foreign investors.
The regulator said on Wednesday that, following a thorough
five-year audit, it planned to impose a fine of between 20,000
levs ($14,000) and 1 million levs for each of the shortcomings
within 15 days.
"Groundless commissions, groundless expenses for
consultants' services were ascertained," Boyan Boev, the
chairman of the regulator, told reporters. "Exceptions have
turned into a bad practice for the three power distribution
In response, CEZ said it operates in line with Bulgarian and
EU regulations and that it could correct the outlined
shortcomings. The Czech energy company added in its statement
that it would study the audit carefully and take steps to
guarantee the interests of its consumers and shareholders.
EVN and Energo-Pro said they would comment later in the day.
The regulator has already started a process toward
potentially revoking the licences of the three companies due to
a payment dispute between them and public power provider NEK.
But the commission said it would first deal with the fines
before deciding on the licences, effectively delaying the ruling
until after a May 25 vote for members of the European
parliament, which is seen as a test of the Socialist-led
High electricity bills are politically sensitive in the
European Union's poorest country, and protests against them
toppled the previous government in February last year.
On Tuesday, the anti-monopoly watchdog accused the three
firms of breaching competition rules by setting unreasonably
high prices for telecoms providers to access their power
The three companies have repeatedly said they operate in
line with laws and regulations.
($1 = 1.4270 Bulgarian Levs)
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Jane Baird)