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Russia: Gazprom-Itera Relationship Causes EBRD Concern

London, 24 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is not offering new financing to Russian natural gas conglomerate Gazprom. The EBRD said it is concerned about Gazprom's relationship with Itera, an energy company that has been attempting to buy energy distribution firms in Eastern Europe and in former Soviet republics.

The EBRD has been considering a $250 million loan to Gazprom, but financial transparency is a key lending condition.

Itera says neither Gazprom nor its managers are shareholders. But EBRD spokesman for Russia Richard Wallis says concerns about Itera's ownership have not been cleared up by its publication of shareholders. That list shows 87 percent of Itera stock is held in trust, meaning those owners do not have to be declared.

The EBRD plans to increase lending in Russia, Ukraine, Southeast Europe, and the Caucasus.

Yugoslavia is due today to make a presentation on its investment opportunities at a meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London. Yugoslavia joined the group in January.

Our correspondent in London said three days of EBRD talks, which started yesterday, are focusing on supporting Southeastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus region.

Leaders of the EBRD made it clear yesterday that they will back, but no longer focus on financially supporting European Union candidate countries.

EBRD President Jean Lemierre said the Bank will put some $70 million in a fund set aside to support small and medium-sized businesses. He said they are the "backbone" of all economies.