Bulgarian regulator re-opens inquiry into CEZ's Bulgarian assets sale

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's competition regulator has re-opened an in-depth inquiry into Czech utility CEZ's CEZP.PR planned 335 million euro ($399 million) sale of its Bulgarian assets to insurance and financial group Eurohold 4EH.BB, it said on Monday.

The Commission for Protection of Competition’s move comes after a Bulgarian court last month revoked its earlier ban on the deal citing procedural breaches.

The regulator, which banned the sale last October saying it would hinder competition in the Balkan country, will now give interested parties 30 days to file their positions on the planned acquisition, it said in a statement.

Last June Eurohold agreed a deal with CEZ to acquire a powerdistributor providing electricity to more than 2 million people,along other energy assets.

In October, the regulator argued that the deal would give the new group a serious competitive advantage both on the energy and the insurance markets in Bulgaria and blocked it.

Eurohold challenged the ruling in court, while CEZ said at the time that Bulgaria was putting up obstacles to the sale.

The Bulgarian financial regulator had also looked into Eurohold’s books in April 2019 to see if the company’s financial situation and capacity allowed for the planned acquisition.

That inquiry was mentioned in a leaked audio file and published by some Bulgarian media where a voice similar to that of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov boasts about ordering it. Borissov has said the file was doctored and prosecutors have launched a probe into the audio file.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Jason Neely