--Poland's anti-monopoly office fines Russian giant for undertaking work without consent
--Gazprom said it will appeal the fine
--Shell, Uniper and OMV disagree with regulator's findings
By Anthony O. Goriainoff, Giulia Petroni and Adria Calatayud
Poland's anti-monopoly office UOKiK said Wednesday that it had imposed a 29 billion-zloty ($7.58 billion) fine on Gazprom PJSC related to the building of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
UOKiK said the Russian energy giant was one of six companies working on the gas pipeline fined for undertaking work "without the required consent of the president of UOKiK."
The regulator also imposed fines amounting to PLN234 million on France's Engie SA, Germany's Uniper SE and Wintershall AG, Austria's OMV AG, and Anglo-Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
The Polish watchdog said the entities concerned are obliged to terminate the agreements for financing the project, which was intended to increase Russia's gas export capacity via the Baltic Sea.
The Polish anti-monopoly authority said the companies concluded--without permission to establish a joint venture--a number of agreements concerning the pipeline's financing and a number of other authorizations, such as, for instance, the ability to interfere with the operation of NS2.
UOKiK said that in 2016 its president voiced concerns regarding the plan and noted that the planned transaction could lead to the restriction of competition and presented its reservations. The companies then withdrew the application, meaning in practice that they were prohibited from performing the merger, the regulator said.
The regulator said information surfaced shortly thereafter stating that the companies had signed an agreement for the financing of the gas pipeline.
"Therefore, proceedings against Gazprom and its five trading partners regarding the execution of the transaction without obtaining approval from the authority were initiated," the regulator said.
"The financial penalties imposed are intended not only to convince the parties involved to observe the law, but also to discourage other players from attempting similar behaviors that violate anti-monopoly regulations in the future," UOKiK president Tomasz Chrostny said.
Gazprom said it disagrees with the fine because it didn't violate Polish antitrust laws. The company said it will appeal the fine.
"The decision of UOKiK violates the principles of legality, proportionality and fair trial, and the unprecedented amount of the fine indicates a desire to oppose the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project by any means," the company said Wednesday, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
Uniper said it is considering a possible appeal against the UoKiK decision, as it doesn't share the assessment presented by regulator. A decision can take up to four or five years and, depending on the decisions, fines wouldn't be due until then, the German energy company said.
Uniper said the agreements concluded between the Nord Stream 2 financial investors and Gazprom aren't a joint venture but financing agreements, and that financing agreements don't constitute a notifiable concentration under Polish merger control law.
Spokespeople for Shell and OMV said they are reviewing the UoKiK's decision.
"We strongly disagree with UOKiK's decision," a Shell spokesperson said.
OMV said it is of the clear opinion that it has complied with all applicable laws.
Engie and Wintershall didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Write to Anthony O. Goriainoff at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires