The European Commission said on March 23 that its investigation of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), the umbrella corporation for state-owned companies in the energy sector, reached preliminary conclusions that BEH may have breached EU antitrust rules by hindering competitors access to key gas infrastructures in Bulgaria.
“At this stage, the Commission has concerns that BEH and its subsidiaries have refused to give competitors access to the gas transmission network and the gas storage facility, as well as reserved capacity they do not need on the gas import pipeline,” the EC said.
The Commission’s statement of objections was also sent to Bulgaria’s state-owned gas company, Bulgargaz, which is fully owned by BEH, and Bulgargaz’ infrastructure subsidiary Bulgartransgaz.
The addressees can examine the documents in the EC’s investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities. The Commission takes a final decision after the parties have exercised their rights of defence.
Should the Commission conclude that there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, after the parties have exercised their rights of defence, the EC can issue a decision prohibiting the conduct and impose a fine of up to 10 per cent of a company’s annual worldwide turnover.
The EC opened its investigation in July 2013 and it is separate from similar proceedings by the Commission regarding BEH’s activities on the electricity market. Last year, the EC said it reached a preliminary view that territorial restrictions on resale contained in BEH’s electricity supply contracts with traders on the non-regulated Bulgarian wholesale electricity market may breach EU antitrust rules as well.
Should BEH be fined the maximum amount in both investigations, the fine would exceed one billion leva (about 500 million euro) based on the holding company’s 2013 financial results, which would put additional pressure on the already cash-strapped BEH.