BERLIN, June 15 Germany's Economy Ministry is
investigating whether to block the sale of RWE's oil
and gas unit DEA to a group of investors led by Russian tycoon
Mikhail Fridman, a spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The German government has never previously made use of a
clause in its foreign trade law, under which it could stop the
deal announced earlier this year if there were concrete signs it
threatened "public safety and order".
"An investigation has been started. It is an open-ended
investigation (to find out) whether there are conditions for
prohibiting the deal under the foreign trade accord," a
spokeswoman for the Economy Ministry told Reuters.
Spiegel magazine on Sunday reported the ministry had started
to look into the deal following fresh information but did not
give further details. The ministry spokeswoman declined to
comment on the information.
Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told RWE chief Peter Terium
about the investigation on Friday, Spiegel said.
"We have been informed about the investigation and are
awaiting its result," a RWE spokeswoman told Reuters, adding the
company still expected to finalise the deal this year.
The 5.1 billion euro ($6.9 billion) deal came under
criticism from senior German politicians in March, as relations
between Russia and the West deteriorated over Ukraine.
The sale will hand Fridman, Russia's second-richest man, and
other co-investors stakes in about 190 oil and gas licenses or
concessions in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
Norbert Roettgen, head of the Bundestag's foreign committee,
from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives said when the deal
was announced it did not "fit into the landscape now".
Germany currently receives more than a third of its gas and
oil from Russia.
More than 6,000 German companies are active in the country
and business associations and trade bodies have warned an
escalation in tensions over Ukraine would result in catastrophic
losses for firms.
RWE, like other German utilities, is struggling to adjust to
a power sector shake-up as Germany moves away from nuclear
energy. The shake-up has more than halved the debt-burdened
firm's market value in four years.
Under pressure from a deep and prolonged industry crisis,
caused by a surge in rivals' renewable capacity as well as weak
energy demand in its core market Europe, RWE has been looking
for ways to reduce its debt pile of more than 30 billion euros,
including cutting jobs and shedding assets.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros)
(Reporting by Annika Breidthardt, Tom Kaeckenhoff and Matthias
Sobolewski; Editing by Sophie Hares)