Intrigue in the energy market

Informal talks are being conducted about the change of shareholders in Conexus Baltic Grid (CBG), a newly-established subsidiary of Latvian natural gas utility Latvijas Gaze, before the Latvian state gets to exercise its right of first refusal in respect of CBG shares, according to weekly news magazine Ir, as reported by the LETA newswire.

CBG was established in late December 2016 during unbundling of Latvijas Gaze required for liberalization of the natural gas market and will take over as the operator of the gas transmission and storage system.

According to the magazine, the company's current shareholders might rob the Latvian state of the chance to take full control of the new gas infrastructure company by quickly selling their shares to other parties before April 3, 2017, the effective date for the Latvian government's right of first refusal to those shares.

For now CBG has the same shareholders as Latvijas Gaze - Russia's Gazprom (34.1 percent), Marguerite Fund (29.1 percent), Germany's Uniper Ruhrgas International GmbH (18.3 percent), Itera Latvija (16 percent) and minority shareholders jointly representing 2.5 percent.

But the existing shareholders, with the exception of financial investor Marguerite Fund, have to dispose of their shares in Conexus Baltic Grid by the end of 2017 so that the new shareholders would not be related to Latvijas Gaze in any way.

April 3, 2017, is the expiry date of the privatization agreement which gave Latvijas Gaze the monopoly to natural gas distribution in Latvia, and under the legislative amendments adopted in February 2016 the government would have the right of first refusal to the shares in the new gas infrastructure company after the date. But this right would be circumvented, if certain shareholders made deals about selling their CBG shares to other parties before April 3.

Latvijas Gaze CEO Aigars Kalvitis refused to comment on the alleged talks about quick sale of CBG shares, saying the question should be addressed to shareholders, but confirmed that different groups of investors were making inquiries about the company.

The government is aware of the possible attempts to sell CBG shares before April 3. Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis (Greens & Farmers Union) told the magazine that the government was considering all options, including purchase of CBG shares from the new shareholders, but there were also other solutions on which he refused to elaborate. "We have to play it close to our chest when dealing with Kalvitis," he said.

Economics Minister Arvils Aseradens (Unity party) told LETA today that the ministry was rather concerned about the situation but the government had the instruments to deal with it, for example, the assessment of the new market players to be carried out by the national public utilities regulator with subsequent approval by the European Commission. It is vital that the new situation would not interfere with the plans for creation of a single Baltic natural gas market, he said.

The minister said he had met with the CBG shareholders but the information about those meetings was confidential.

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