April 9, 2015 / 2:20 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Ukraine parliament approves sweeping gas sector reform law

(Adds detail on law, context on Ukraine gas market)

KIEV, April 9 (Reuters) - Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday backed a law aimed at breaking the stranglehold of powerful groups over the lucrative gas distribution sector and establishing fairer market conditions.

“This law will abolish the monopoly of the oligarchs and allow gas price reductions,” said Oleh Lyashko, leader of Ukrainian Radical Party, which has repeatedly called for measures to curb the influence of big business.

The gas distribution market is mostly controlled by companies belonging to a few rich businessmen, including oligarch Dmytro Firtash whose Group DF, according to deputies, directly or indirectly controls 70 percent of the market.

The new law is intended to ensure non-discriminatory access to a gas market based on the principles of “free competition with the appropriate level of consumer protection”.

Firtash himself is currently in Austria, where he is free on bail after being arrested a year ago at the request of U.S. authorities who accuse him of bribery over a business deal in India, a case he says is politically motivated.

Group DF was not available for immediate comment.

Ukraine consumes around 42 billion cubic metres of gas per year and imports around half from Europe and Russia. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Andrew Roche)

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