March 24, 2008 / 4:29 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 1-Ukraine privatisation chief seeks sale suspension

(Adds president’s comments)

KIEV, March 24 (Reuters) - The head of Ukraine’s privatisation agency, under attack by the government, said on Monday planned sell-offs this year worth potentially billions of dollars should be suspended.

Valentyna Semenyuk said the near-monopoly positions of telecoms company Ukrtelekom, the Odessa Port chemical plant and some energy firms required the introduction of new privatisation rules before any auctions take place. “The fund will soon take appropriate measures, taking into account the conclusions of the anti-monopoly committee,” Semenyuk said in a statement.

She was referring to a report by the committee asking for new rules to tighten anti-trust practice. Semenyuk’s position at the agency hangs in the balance. She was sacked by the government earlier this year, but immediately reinstated by President Viktor Yushchenko on grounds that the decision needed parliament’s approval.

Yushchenko, who has told Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that orderly privatisations are needed, appeared to back Semenyuk on Monday.

He told Tymoshenko he wanted a precise timetable for privatisation, with details of how individual companies would be prepared for auction and how revenues would be spent.

“I am not an advocate of chaotic privatisation,” his press service quoted him as saying at the meeting. “Our privatisation policy must reflect the national interest.” The government had no immediate reaction to his and Semenyuk’s statements.

The cabinet has tried to push through a vote on Semenyuk’s position since January, but the assembly was brought to a virtual standstill for a month over a blockade by opposition politicians who denounced Kiev’s NATO aspirations.

Attempts to vote on the issue once work resumed have been delayed.

Tymoshenko has criticised previous privatisation deals as shady and called for clean, open auctions. Her government has a slender majority in parliament.

Government officials have said Ukrtelekom could fetch $7 billion and the Odessa Port chemicals plant another $1 billion, which would far exceed budgeted privatisation revenues of $1.6 billion. (Reporting by Yuri Kulikov; writing by Sabina Zawadzki)

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