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CEZ warns it will quit deal if price changes

The biggest Czech electricity producer CEZ threatened last Friday to walk away from its planned purchase of government shareholdings in regional distribution companies.

"There is no legal basis for a fresh evaluation [of the price]," said CEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz. "We will walk away from the planed deal if there is any different valuation."

The Czech competition office, the Office for the Protection of Economic Competition (UOHS) has called for a fresh assessment of the price that CEZ must pay, according to a government source quoted by Reuters. The UOHS said in a statement Friday that it had recommended a fresh assessment of the price, adding that it was acting according to its powers to probe illegal state subsidies.

The call for a new valuation is only the latest in a series of setbacks CEZ has suffered in its one-year-old attempt to bolster its domestic market share by taking over some of its biggest customers — the regional electricity companies.

In mid-December, the competition office called for CEZ to scale back its acquisition ambitions. It said CEZ could take long-term controlling shareholdings in four of the country's eight regional electricity companies provided that it sold a majority shareholding in one other distributor and offloaded minority shareholdings in the three remaining companies within a year. CEZ appealed that decision, and a response to its complaints to the Brno-based competition office was expected at the beginning of March.

A spokeswoman for the nominal owner of the distribution companies, government holding company the National Property Fund (FNM), said it had not been informed of any reassessment of the purchase price. According to some reports, the FNM will be asked to carry out a new valuation.

CEZ was due to pay Kc 21 billion and hand over its controlling shareholding in CEPS, the company running the high transmission electricity grid, in exchange for the government shareholdings in the eight regional distributors.

(PBJ 17.ii.03)

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