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SOFIA (Bulgaria), December 17 (SeeNews) - The European Commission said on Monday that it has imposed a 77.1 million euro ($87.4 million) fine on Bulgarian state-owned energy group BEH and its units Bulgartransagaz and Bulgargaz for blocking competitors' access to key gas infrastructure.
"For years, Bulgarian natural gas consumers have been denied a choice of suppliers because the BEH group refused to give access to its gas infrastructure to other wholesale gas suppliers. With today's decision, we will promote the development of an open and competitive energy market to the benefit of consumers in Bulgaria, in line with Energy Union objectives," Margrethe Vestager, commissioner in charge of competition policy, said in a statement.
The Commission's decision opens the door for all affected entities to seek damages before local courts. Damages awarded will not be deducted from the fine imposed by the Commission.
BEH pools together Bulgarian state-owned energy companies, including gas infrastructure operator Bulgartransagaz and gas supplier Bulgargaz.
Between 2010 and 2015, the BEH group blocked access to the sole import pipeline bringing gas into Bulgaria, the country's only gas storage facility - Chiren, and the domestic gas transmission network. Without access to this essential infrastructure, it was impossible for potential competitors to enter wholesale gas supply markets in Bulgaria. This prevented any development of competition and ensured a near monopoly for Bulgargaz.
Bulgaria imports almost all the natural gas it needs from Russia via a pipeline crossing Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.
(1 euro = 1.95583 levs)