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Lawyer Vilius Bernatonis: Gazprom fails to stop probe into operations of Lithuanian Gas, but pricing has to be settled through arbitration

„RIA Novosti“/„Scanpix“ / „Gazprom“
Šaltinis: BNS

Russian gas company Gazprom has failed to get Lithuania’s government stop a probe into operations of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) through the Stockholm Arbitration Institute, Vilius Bernatonis, a lawyer representing the Lithuanian state, has said.

“One of the fundamental demands by Gazprom was to acknowledge that the state’s actions pertaining to the initiation of a probe into the activities of Lietuvos Dujos were illegal and infringed the shareholders’ agreement. The Russian concern demanded that the Lithuanian state be obliged to stop the investigation of the company's activities. However, the arbitration has not imposed such an obligation,” Bernatonis told BNS.

The arbitration institute ruled that Lithuania’s state had the right to launch an investigation into the activities of the Lithuanian gas imports and transportation company and did not breach the provisions of the shareholders’ agreement, the lawyer said.

“However, the arbitration said that certain issues were governed by the shareholders’ agreement and it would not be right for the state to seek to address those issues through an investigation. The state cannot pursue measures that would circumvent the shareholders’ agreement,” Bernatonis said.

One of those issues dealt with provisions in the shareholders’ agreement on the calculation of the price of natural gas supplied to Lithuania, he said.

“In the arbitration’s opinion, it would not be a proper action; any disputes over the shareholders agreement’s provisions governing the prices of gas shall be solved through arbitration,” Bernatonis said.

He noted, however, that the current stage of investigation into Lietuvos Dujos’ activities did not involve any decisions on measures that could be imposed on the company. Moreover, the measures would be decided by court, not the government.

“Now the court is considering whether to open an investigation of activities or not. If it decides to launch that probe, the court, which enjoys very wide discretion under the Civil Code, will decide at its own discretion whether to apply any measures and what measures should be applied if the investigation shows that the activities by Lietuvos Dujos or its management have been inadequate,” Bernatonis said.

Lithuania’s Energy Ministry reported on Tuesday that the Stockholm Arbitration Institute had turned down the claims, including the demands for the compensation of losses, lodged by Gazprom against Lithuania and validated the right of Lithuania’s government to initiate a probe into Lietuvos Dujos’ activities at the Vilnius Regional Court.

The ministry added, however, that the arbitration had stated that the issues pertaining to the gas price applied to Lithuania could not be addressed during the investigation of the company’s operations and the government might file those claims with the Stockholm arbitration.

Meanwhile, Gazprom claimed in its Tuesday press release that the Stockholm Arbitration Institute had satisfied most of the claims filed by the Russian concern and protected its rights stemming from being a shareholder of Lietuvos Dujos. Gazprom also emphasized the arbitration’s view that disputes over the terms for the supply and transit of natural gas as well as over other commercial relations between Gazprom and Lietuvos Dujos, which were governed by the shareholders’ agreement, should be tackled through arbitration and not in Lithuanian courts.

In March 2011, the Energy Ministry filed a suit with the Vilnius Regional Court initiating a probe into Lietuvos Dujos‘ operations and asking, among other things, to dismiss Gazprom-delegated representatives from Lietuvos Dujos' management board due to an alleged conflict of interest. It also asked the court to dismiss Lietuvos Dujos CEO Viktoras Valentukevičius if the actions of the company and its management were found to be improper.

Lithuanian Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas has accused Gazprom of supplying gas to Lithuania at an unfair price.

The Lithuanian government has filed a formal complaint to Brussels over possible unfair pricing and abuse of market dominance by Gazprom, which is the country's sole gas supplier.

In June 2011, Gazprom filed its first complaint with Stockholm Arbitration Institute, asking it to prohibit Lithuania’s courts from hearing a case over an investigation initiated by the Energy Ministry into operations of Lietuvos Dujos, but a special arbitrator rejected the complaint later. The Russian company went to the institute again, asking it to launch arbitration proceedings.

Moreover, Gazprom has also filed a suit against Lithuania with the United Nations Commission in International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) over the government’s reform of the national natural gas sector, which will see the unbundling of Lietuvos Dujos’ operations by October 2014.

Gazprom holds a 37.06 percent stake in Lietuvos Dujos and E.ON Ruhrgas International owns 38.9 percent. The Lithuanian government owns 17.70 percent of Lietuvos Dujos, which is listed on the blue-chip Main List of the NASDAQ OMX Vilnius stock exchange. 

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