Greece Rethinks China Port Sale

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Published Mar 29, 2015 10:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

As Greece races to raise funds, Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis told China's official Xinhua news agency that Athens will sell its majority stake in the port of Piraeus within weeks, a flip-flop from its previous position.

Speaking during a visit by Greek officials to China, Dragasakis hinted that Chinese firm Cosco Group - short-listed in a process launched by the previous center-right government - was a front runner for the state's 67 percent stake.

And as Greece seeks to fill its state coffers, the Russian ambassador to Athens told Kathimerini newspaper that Moscow would examine any loan request from Greece, were it to be made.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit Moscow on April 8 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin but the Greek government has stressed it is not seeking funding from the Kremlin.

On Saturday, Greece's energy ministry said Lafazanis will meet Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller on Monday in the capital, a week before Tsipras is due to arrive.

The previous center-right government had planned to accelerate the sale of a 65 percent stake in gas utility DEPA, after an initial attempt to sell to Gazprom in 2013 failed. Within days of Syriza taking power in January, Lafazanis said he would scrap the sale.

DEPA has previously negotiated with Gazprom in a bid to get cheaper gas supplies and was one of the first European companies to obtain a rebate in 2011.

The two countries, which are both Orthodox Christian, have traditionally had good relations and Athens has never strongly supported sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. 

Tsipras Placates Europe

Tsipras said on Saturday that he sought no rift with Europe after his cash-strapped country submitted a list of reforms to its lenders in a bid to secure much-needed funds.

Tsipras' leftist government agreed an extension to its 240-million euro bailout fund in February, albeit with aid frozen, and now must agree on a set of reforms which it sent to its EU-IMF creditors on Friday in order to stave off bankruptcy.

The austerity-weary nation will run out of money by April 20, a source told Reuters on Tuesday, if it does not unlock much-needed funding.

"The liquidity problem is naturally hampering the situation but I believe that will be tackled immediately once we reach an agreement over reforms," Tsipras said in an interview with Sunday's Real News newspaper.

After answering a question regarding government attempts to deal with corruption, Tsipras was asked whether he wanted a rift or a solution with Greece's partners: "My view has always been the same: a break from corruption, a solution with Europe."

Earlier Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, one of Tsipras' most left-wing ministers, hit out at a "Germanized European Union… for tightening week by week the noose around the Greek economy."

Athens says its reforms will boost state revenues by 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in 2015, partly by tackling tax evasion, but that it will oppose any new "recessionary measures" such as further wage or pension cuts.

As talks unfold, Finance Minister Varoufakis told Vima newspaper on Sunday that the reforms would not include a rise in VAT, which had been a concern on Greece's islands where rates are lower, but changes to tax collection would be made.

Varoufakis was the center of speculation on Friday following a report in the German newspaper Bild that a Greek government source had said it was only a matter of time before he resigned. But Tsipras said Varoufakis was "one of the key members of the government".

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