* Watchdog finds 2,690 breaches of rules of 3 power firms
* To decide on distributors' licences after the EU vote
* Foreign-owned companies say work within rules, EVN to
appeal any fine
(Adds Energo-Pro and EVN comment)
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, Czech CEZ and Energo-Pro said in separate
statements they operate in line with Bulgarian and EU
regulations, but would study the audit carefully and take steps
to guarantee the interests of their customers and shareholders.
Austrian EVN would appeal any sanctions against it in court,
Joerg Zolfellner, chief executive of its Bulgarian unit, told a
press conference, saying the audit was carried out in a chaotic,
non-professional and biased way.
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
($1 = 1.4270 Bulgarian Levs)
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing
by Jane Baird and David Evans)