December 17, 2018 / 11:39 AM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 2-EU fines Bulgarian Energy Holding 77 mln euros for blocking gas rivals

* Fine covers five-year period to 2015

* Bulgarian energy minister yet to decide how to proceed

* Criticises EU for demanding privatisation of a BEH unit (Adds Bulgarian comment, detail)

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - State-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) was fined 77 million euros ($87.3 million) by EU antitrust regulators on Monday for blocking rivals’ access to key gas infrastructure in Bulgaria over a five-year period to 2015.

The European Commission, which raided the company in 2011 in a move that led to the opening of an investigation in 2013, said BEH had abused its dominance to hinder competitors.

Bulgarian Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova said Sofia had yet to receive the ruling and decide how to proceed, adding BEH and its units had three months to pay the fine.

She criticised the Commission, the European Union’s competition enforcer, for demanding that Bulgaria should privatise BEH’s gas network operator Bulgartransgaz in order to reach an agreement and avoid a fine.

“This is strategic infrastructure for the country, directly linked with the national security. We cannot allow compromises with our national security,” Petkova told reporters.

The Commission said BEH blocked access to the domestic gas transmission network, the only gas storage facility in the country and the only import gas pipeline in Bulgaria.

“Without access to this essential infrastructure, it was impossible for potential competitors to enter wholesale gas supply markets in Bulgaria,” the Commission said.

“This prevented any development of competition and ensured a near monopoly for Bulgargaz.”

Bulgargaz is BEH’s gas supply unit. The fine also covered Bulgargaz and Bulgartransgaz.

The EU action is in line with its objective of having a single energy market in the 28-country bloc.

$1 = 0.8821 euros Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Editing by Dale Hudson and Mark Potter

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