The Russsian state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, has been charged with abusing its market position by the European Union.
Following a two year investigation, Brussels now accuses the firm of overcharging customers in Eastern Europe and hindering competition.
Europe’s anti-trust chief, Margarethe Vestager, says Gazprom has also pressured government to back its pipeline interests.
“Gazprom has been charging what we think of as unfairly high prices in five different countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Bulgaria,” said Vestager, Europe’s Competition Commissioner. “Gazprom has used its dominance in (the) supply of gas to obtain unrelated commitments from customers concerning the gas infrastructure,” she added.
Two years ago, the Russian firm, with annual sales of around 100-billion euros, supplied about 40 percent of the EU’s natural gas. That figure today is slightly less but Russia remains a vital provider.
Gazprom has 12 weeks to respond to the charges which it describes as “unfounded”. It has previously tried to settle the case and avoid a possible fine, but talks failed over its refusal to cut prices in Eastern Europe.
Our correspondent Andrei Beketov believes the case will test ties strained over Ukraine: “The commission insists that this is purely a competition case, initiated well before the Ukrainian crisis. Brussels says that such an important company like Gazprom should simply abide by European rules. However, Moscow looks at this rebuff in the context of political tensions, and the Western sanctions against Russia.”
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