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EU antitrust body files charges against Gazprom

The European Union's antitrust authority has charged Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom with anti-competitive behavior. The decision comes two years after investigations were initiated by Brussels.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager (pictured) announced Wednesday that the EU's antitrust authority had charged Russian energy behemoth Gazprom with behavior running afoul of the bloc's competition rules.

Talking to reporters at a news conference in Brussels, she criticized the Russian state-owned company for demanding higher prices from clients in more dependent markets in southern and eastern Europe, saying that Gazprom was suspected of abusing its dominant position in Poland, Hungary and a further six countries.

Other charges included banning the resale of Russian gas from lower-priced to higher-priced customers and closing pipelines and infrastructure to other suppliers or linking gas deliveries to investments in infrastructure.

"We find that Gazprom may have built artificial barriers preventing gas from flowing from certain central eastern European countries to others, hindering cross-border competition," Vestager said in a statement.

Brave move?

Despite the EU's recent attempts to become less dependent on energy supplies from Russia, Gazprom has remained a vital supplier amid frequent political disputes.

If found guilty, the Russian company could eventually see itself confronted with a fine of up to 10 percent of its global revenues, which could be as much as $17 billion (15.8 billion euros).

Pressure would rise on Gazprom to open its pipelines to third-party suppliers so as to adhere to the EU's open-access rules within the bloc's Energy Charter.

The competition commissioner's move comes two years after a probe into Gazprom got underway, and just a week after she charged US tech giant Google with abusing market power.

In a first response, Gazprom said Wednesday the EU's charges were "unfounded." It added it expected a settlement of the antitrust case in the framework of an agreement reached previously between Russia and the EU.

"Gazprom's work on the EU market, including price-formation principles, is in line with the standards that other gas producers and exporters use," the company said in a statement released in Berlin.

hg/ng (dpa, Reuters)

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