* Political row over privatisation deals
* NIS deal brokered by party now in opposition
* Government facing scrutiny over airline sale
(Updates with Gazprom Neft reaction)
By Ivana Sekularac
BELGRADE, Aug 12 Serbia is to launch an
investigation into the 2008 privatisation of state oil company
NIS, now majority-owned by Russia's Gazprom Neft
, the country's interior ministry said.
Gazprom Neft, which bought a 51 percent stake in the NIS
monopoly for 400 million euros ($534 million) in 2008, said it
was surprised that the Serbian authorities would bring "our
fruitful work into question".
In a statement late on Monday, the interior ministry said it
would investigate the deal that was brokered under a government
led at the time by the Democratic Party, which is now in
Some politicians at the time said the sale grossly
undervalued NIS. It coincided with the climax of a drive by
Serbia's former southern province of Kosovo to secede, with
Serbia relying on ally Russia's veto in the Security Council to
block any U.N. endorsement of a declaration of independence.
"A special investigative team will examine all the facts and
circumstances regarding the privatisation of NIS," the ministry
The sale was part of a wider energy deal between Russia and
Serbia, which included a commitment to build the South Stream
pipeline through Serbia and construction of a gas storage
facility that has since been completed.
Serbia is in the middle of a dispute between the European
Union, which it wants to join, and Russia's South Stream
project, with the EU effectively blocking construction in
Serbian neighbour Bulgaria.
ETIHAD DEAL QUESTIONED
"Our relations with the government have always been based on
partnership," Gazprom Neft First Deputy CEO Vadim Yakovlev said
during a conference call on Tuesday.
"We don't see the logic of bringing our fruitful work into
question. We hope to find a solution through direct dialogue
(with the government)."
Announcement of the investigation comes as the ruling
Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of Prime Minister Aleksandar
Vucic faces calls to publish the terms of a deal last year under
which United Arab Emirates airline Etihad took a 49 percent
stake in Serbia's indebted flag carrier JAT Airways, now Air
Vucic spearheaded that deal and promised to publish the
contract, but the government has yet to do so. On Tuesday he
said it would be released to the public on Thursday.
A Democratic Party official denied that the NIS sale was
"damaging" for Serbia.
"The agreement was ratified by parliament," Borislav
Stefanovic, a senior party official, told the Beta news agency.
Gazprom Neft has since increased its share in NIS to 56.15
percent. Almost 30 percent is owned by the Serbian government
and the rest by small shareholders.
NIS runs two refineries in Serbia and produces oil and gas
totalling 1.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent a year, operating
fields in Serbia, Angola and Bosnia.
A spokeswoman for NIS said: "The matter should be resolved
between the two countries."
(1 US dollar = 0.7485 euro)
(Additional reporting by Olesya Astakhova in Moscow; Editing by
Matt Robinson and David Goodman)