Greece resumes privatization drive, shortlists property bidders

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 11, 2012 1:38 PM
Greece resumes privatization drive, shortlists property bidders

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's privatization agency HRADF pushed ahead with a string of state asset sales on Tuesday, putting an end to five months of inactivity caused by the country's political wobbles.

HRADF shortlisted four companies, including Qatari Diar Real Estate as well as British-based London and Regional Properties for a landmark, multi-billion euro project to develop the former Athens airport of Hellenikon, it said in a statement.

The fund also said it was in the final stretch to seek binding bids for a 90-year lease of a shopping mall that formerly served as the broadcasting centre for the Athens 2004 Olympics (IBC).

Possible suitors also were called to submit non-binding bids for a stake in natural gas operator DEPA.

Asset sales and concessions of state property are a key condition in Greece's international bailout deal. But the country is trailing badly a target to raise proceeds of 19 billion euros ($24.4 billion) by end-2015. It has raised just 1.6 billion euros in cash so far.

Political foot dragging has caused much of the delay. HRADF suspended its work in April because it did not want to operate during a pre-election period, which stretched to mid-June.

It took the incoming government almost two months to appoint a new leadership team at the fund and lawmakers another month to clear the team.

HRADF management believes the 19-billion-euro target is feasible but revenues this year are not likely to go beyond 300 million euros, a source at the fund told Reuters, reiterating a view aired publicly by its previous chief executive Costas Mitropoulos who resigned earlier this year.

"I would assume this (300 million euros) would be feasible," the official said. "It's a bit early to say. We haven't had the opportunity to look in detail at all the assets."

A leasing deal for IBC will probably close this year, possibly followed by a license sale for the state-run Hellenic Lotteries. But the first big privatization, that of DEPA, will have to wait until early 2013.

"In a conservative view, this would be expected to be finalized early 2013," the official said.

Also in early 2013, the Fund expects to have picked winning bids for two smaller real estate projects on the resort islands of Corfu and Rhodes, the official said. Hellenikon was a complex deal that needed several months to go ahead, he added.

Such a timetable is at odds with government hopes to announce one big privatization this autumn to please its increasingly exasperated international lenders.

A government source told Reuters earlier this month that the country might seek a quick, impressive sale, possibly of the state's last remaining stake in OPAP, one of Europe's biggest gambling companies.

But HRADF might prefer to wait with the OPAP sale before the European Commission resolves issues regarding the company's monopoly position in the Greek sports betting market.

The Fund's new Chairman Takis Athanasopoulos and CEO Yannis Emiris told parliament last week they had to make sure that regulatory and competition issues had been settled before any asset was put up for sale or concession.

Before proceeding with any deals, Greece must also modify or abolish about 70 rules and laws impeding the entry of private investors into the companies.

The government started moving on that front last week by scrapping a law obliging the state to keep a minimum stake in a string of public companies, such as OPAP or the country's top energy companies Public Power Corp and refiner Hellenic Petroleum.

($1 = 0.7785 euros)

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Harry Papachristou; Editing by Michael Roddy)