fbpx

Gazprom’s Hungarian Scam

firtash.jpg

There is a riveting business story posted at Asia Times Online by Roman Kupchinsky, taking a look at the removal of the allegedly shady RosUkrEnergo trading company – famous for its non-transparent middleman role selling gas between Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Europe – only to be replaced by a new non-transparent middleman trading company, RosGas, also based in Zug, Switzerland.  Dmytro Firtash appears to have his name all over it.  If you have the patience for the details, this is quite a story.

Gazprom spokesman Sergey Kuprianov sharply contradicted the allegation that the company was linked to Rosgas: “It is well known that the only export channel for Russian gas is the company Gazprom Export. The company RosGas which was named today in the Hungarian media has no relation to Gazprom and is not part of the Gazprom Group.”

According to company records located by Jamestown, RosGas AG was first registered in Zurich, under the name IKRON AG on December 10, 2008, and changed its name eight days later to RosGas AG while relocating to Zug – only a few weeks before the Ukrainian-Russian gas conflict began in January 2009. The two principle shareholders of RosGas are Andras Laki, and Tamas Grazda, a Hungarian national who also happens to be the acquisitions and mergers director for Emfesz and a member of the management board of Emfesz, Poland.

The immediate suspicion is that RosGas AG is yet another in a longline of shadowy intermediary companies created by Firtash and Gazprom.However, in the case of RosGas this may mask a possible attempt byGazprom to cut gas supplies to Firtash’s Emfesz, as a precursor to acompany takeover – vastly increasing its share of the Hungariandomestic gas distribution network.

Hungary has been a key target for the Russian state-owned Gazpromsince the collapse of communism within Central Europe. Viewed as apotential major European gas hub, Hungary first became a target of theKremlin in 2002 when a mysterious gas trading company, Eural Trans Gas(ETG), was registered in Budapest.

That year ETG took over the contract from a Russian company, Itera,acting as the intermediary for supplying gas from Turkmenistan toUkraine. ETG was a totally opaque structure that was later exposed asbelonging to Ukrainian gas trader Dmytro Firtash and his partner, IvanFursyn, a banker from Odessa with close ties to the administration ofthen-Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma. (…)

As the Firtash-Gazprom relationship began souring in 2008, Gazprom made a number of offers to buy a substantial share of Emfesz. Firtash refused to sell. In April 2009, the Russian audit chamber announced that Firtash owed Gazprom $514 million, exerting more pressure on him to turn over his Hungarian operation to Moscow.

If RosGas begins supplying Emfesz with the large quantities of gas it is contracted to sell in Hungary, it will raise questions over the source of that gas. It also raises the question of whether RosGas is another Gazprom scheme to possibly siphon off funds for the Kremlin and reward Firtash for his long-standing loyalty to the Kremlin.