Bulgarian Energy Holding and its subsidiaries, Bulgargaz and Bulgartransgaz, have received the European Commission’s Decision in Case АТ.39849 BEH-Gas. The companies regret that the Commission has decided to proceed with the adoption of the Decision as well as the imposition of a fine. When considering this development, it needs to be taken into account that the alleged conduct relates to a period back in the past, which was transitional for the Bulgarian energy market following Bulgaria's accession to the European Union.
In particular, BEH and its subsidiaries do not accept the Commission’s findings that they have abused a dominant position on the Bulgarian gas market. The companies continue to believe that access to the Bulgarian transmission network and gas storage has always been conducted in line with existing laws. In addition, granting access to the Romanian transit pipeline has never been within the control of either BEH or any of its subsidiaries. Moreover, the companies believe that the level of fine is clearly disproportionate.
Throughout the period of the investigation, the Bulgarian side has fully cooperated with the Commission and have made every effort to terminate the Case with commitments, in a mutually acceptable manner. Unfortunately, the Commission has rejected the proposals, which involved significant concessions by the Bulgarian side. We regret this development, bearing in mind the cooperative approach of the Commission with respect to other recent antitrust cases related to natural gas trade in Central and Eastern Europe.
We note that the Commission has taken into consideration some of the arguments of the Bulgarian side concerning the duration of the alleged infringement, and which according to the Decision ended at the very beginning of 2015. The Commission also accepted that the unbundling of a BEH subsidiary as a structural remedy, which had been suggested in the Statements of Objections to the three companies in 2015, was no longer required. The fine imposed, amounting to EUR 77 068 000, despite being manifestly disproportionate, is nonetheless considerably below the legal maximum amount of EUR 316 800 000 (i.e., 10% of BEH’s turnover for 2014).
We emphasize that at no point during the period of the alleged infringement Bulgarian consumers’ interests have been affected. The prices of natural gas in Bulgaria were regulated by an independent authority - the Energy and Water Regulatory Commission - pursuant to rules, which protect the interests of the consumers and society and limit the price-setting options of the public supplier, Bulgargaz.
Bulgarian Energy Holding and its subsidiaries make utmost efforts to implement projects that lead to diversification of the sources of supply of natural gas in Bulgaria. These efforts are positively assessed and supported by the Commission. The common objectives of the companies and the Commission remain unchanged and their fulfillment will not in any way be affected by the Decision.
The companies will carefully examine the Decision and will likely file an appeal, challenging both the allegations and the level of the fine. While in principle, the fine payment is due within three months from the date of the Decision, in case of an appeal, the procedural rules provide for either provisional payment of the fine, subject to reimbursement in case of success, or provision of a guarantee.