ATHENS Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and SintezKSINI.RTS, Azerbaijan's state-owned SOCAR and two Greek groups have bid for Greek gas company DEPA, Greece's privatization agency said on Tuesday.
Greece hopes such asset sales will help it pay off its debt.
The agency confirmed statements to Reuters on Monday by people familiar with the situation who said the Russian and Azeri firms had emerged as the main bidders in a deal Greek officials hope will yield 500 million to 1 billion euros.
The other bidders were consortiums comprised by Μ&Μ GasCo-Μitilineos-Motor Oil (MYTr.AT) (MORr.AT) and PPF and GEK TERNA (HRMr.AT).
Advisers to the privatization agency are examining the bids and are expected to submit suggestions to the agency's board of directors in the coming days, the agency said.
"We are satisfied with the investors' response and the trust in our country and DEPA's prospects despite the difficult environment," Ioannis Emiris, head of the agency, said in a statement.
Greece hopes to sell all of the company - the government holds 65 percent, with the remainder owned by Hellenic Petroleum (HEPr.AT) - by the first quarter of next year, the people familiar with the situation said.
Of the sales of state assets under way in Greece, DEPA's is one of the most advanced, alongside gambling company OPAP and prime real estate projects.
If completed early next year, the sales could put Athens back toward chipping away at a debt load expected to peak at 190 percent of gross domestic product in 2016.
The government is aiming to earn 300 million euros in 2012 and 11 billion euros by 2016 through the sale of state assets.
DEPA attracted no major Western European bidders - such as Italy's ENI (ENI.MI), French EDF's (EDF.PA) subsidiary Edison, and Spain's Gas Natural (EGAS.A) and Enagas (ENAG.MC) - most likely due to Greece's risky economic outlook, two of the sources said.
The pursuit of DEPA by Gazprom and Sintez underscores the interest Russian energy companies have in finding ways to extend themselves into EU states, not least because of past rows with Ukraine, Russia's major conduit to the EU.
However, a deal with Gazprom could face antitrust hurdles, since Brussels is already investigating the Russian company, which is 50 percent-owned by the Kremlin, for alleged price fixing due to its dominant position as a gas supplier to Europe.
In general, a sale to a Russian company would run up against EU efforts to diversify gas supplies away from Russia by bankrolling new import corridors from the Caspian Sea via Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Europe's so-called Third Energy Package restricts Gazprom's control over its European pipeline assets.
DEPA has gas trading activities, while its EPA unit supplies and distributes gas and its DEFSA unit handles transmission.
UBS UBSN.VX is the Greek government's lead adviser on the deal, alongside Rothschild ROT.UL and Greece's Alpha Bank (ACBr.AT).
(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou and Elefteris Papadimas; Writing by Sophie Sassard and Michael Winfrey; editing by John Wallace)