Oil and Gas

Russia's Putin calls for new anti-cartel law

MOSCOW, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on Monday for new anti-monopoly legislation to be drafted in September and put Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin in charge of drafting it.

Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS), which often lacks the political clout to deal with large companies violating existing anti-cartel laws, was recently publicly chastised by Putin for failing to keep kerosene prices low.

“I asked the head of FAS to draft a package of laws which should improve anti-monopoly legislation in order to prevent cartel deals, create transparent and clear competition rules,” Putin was quoted by Russian agencies as saying.

The watchdog is currently investigating New York-listed miner Mechel MTL.N, whose stock has been ravaged by Putin's attacks on its pricing policy, as part of its probe into high domestic coal prices.

The watchdog’s head Igor Artemyev earlier said about a quarter of Russia’s overall prices growth is a result of cartel agreements, while a study posted on FAS’s website showed that about a half of Russian businessmen had never heard of FAS.

Artemyev, a former opposition politician, is walking a tightrope, trying to pursue his anti-monopoly agenda in a business environment dominated by influential state-controlled firms whose boards are packed with top officials.

In 2007 FAS issued fines worth a total about 500 million roubles ($21.31 million). Also in 2007 FAS fined gas export monopoly Gazprom GAZP.MM 300,000 roubles ($12,790) for violating anti-monopoly laws.

A decision to place Kudrin, one of Putin’s closest allies, in charge of drafting new anti-monopoly laws may boost the watchdog’s political clout.

“I ask you, in your role as deputy prime minister, to take it under control,” Putin was quoted by the agencies as telling Kudrin during a government meeting. (Reporting by Gleb Bryanski, editing by Will Waterman)