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Central Europe: Two-speed sales

THE PRIVATISATION of the former Czech state-owned oil and petrochemicals monopoly, Unipetrol Group, continues apace. The government said it had whittled the list of bidders down to six, from the original 18, in January.

The national property fund (FNM), the body charged with selling the state's 63% stake, says a committee will meet later in the month to reduce the number further to an unspecified number of bidders, which will then be able to perform due diligence on Unipetrol and submit a final bid. The government hopes to complete the sale of the stake by the end of March and analysts reckon it could generate as much as Kc15bn ($0.58bn).

Although FNM refused to divulge the names of the remaining companies, they are widely reported to be Kazakhstan's state-owned oil and gas company, KazMunaiGaz, Royal Dutch/Shell, Hungary's Mol, Poland's PKN Orlen, Penta Finance—the Czech-Slovak investment bank—and Russia's Tatneft, which is bidding through its German affiliate, Efremov Kautschuk.

The news from Romania, where the government is attempting to sell the country's former oil and gas monopoly, SNP Petrom, was not so good. The government said in January that it has postponed the sell-off until June. It blamed the postponement on unresolved questions about the ownership of real-estate assets confiscated by the communist regime half a century ago and environmental issues relating to Petrom's outdated facilities.

Analysts say this is a setback for the government, which has tried to improve the transparency on orderliness of the privatisation process. It will also further harm Romania's standing with the European Commission, which said in its annual report on the country's readiness to join the European Union last year that it needs to speed up the privatisation process and restructuring of the energy sector.

The seven companies that have made preliminary bids for an initial stake of 33% in SNP Petrom are: Gazprom, Switzerland's Glencore, Greece's Hellenic Petroleum, Mol, OMV, Occidental Oil and Gas and PKN Orlen.

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