OMV, the Austrian oil and gas group, and Russia’s Gazprom, along with the Vienna Stock Exchange and Centrex Europe Energy and Gas AG (CEEGAG) have agreed to cooperate in developing the Central European Gas Hub (CEGH) located in Baumgarten, Austria, Kommersant daily reported on November 5. According to the paper, OMV and Gazprom will each own 30 percent of the shares, while the Vienna Stock Exchange and Centrex Europe Energy and Gas will have 20 percent apiece. Behind the bland announcement, however, is hidden the bizarre history of the creation of the Centrex Group and CEEGAG.
CEEGAG was formerly known as Jurimex Energy and Gas Development AG, a company created in 2003 by Hans Baumgartner, Robert Nowikovsky, and Peter Haenseler and registered in Zug, Switzerland. The owners of CEEGAG on July 30, 2004, were GH Gas Holdings, Ltd., in Cyprus and RN Privatstiftung, a private foundation in Vienna whose principle stockholders, according to Austrian law, cannot be revealed. Gazprom’s website stated on September 29, 2006, however, that: “Centrex Europe Energy & Gas AG (Austria) was founded by ZAO AB Gazprombank to operate in the energy sector of liberalized European markets” (www.gazprom.ru/eng/news/2006/09/21184.shtml). In 2006 the Vienna-based CEEGAG paid no dividends on its profits of €47 million. The former parent company of Centrex, IDF, also paid no dividends in 2004 and 2005 and only a paltry 100,000 Swiss francs in 2006.
Why did Gazprombank and Gazprom bother to go through all the trouble of hiding its relationship to CEEGAG through a Cyprus-based holding company and an anonymous Austrian private foundation?
On the Centrex Group website there is no reference to any formal relationship to Gazprom. Furthermore, the group claims to have a subsidiary company in Russia, OOO Oil and Gas Industry Services. The Centrex website, (www.centrex.com), describes the company as “an international group of companies operating in the natural gas sector, focusing on the extraction and marketing of natural gas reserves. In Central Asia, the Centrex Group is also investing in the development of sustainable gas production.” The Centrex website lists Centrex Europe Energy and Gas AG as not merely a part of the Centrex Group but as its “operational headquarters.”
Despite Gazprom’s claim that CEEGAC was founded by Gazprom Bank, registration documents of neither CEEGAG nor its predecessor Jurimex Energy reflect this relationship. Moreover, a document of the European Commission (Commission Decision of 21/XII/2005 (Case No COMP/M.3696 – E.ON/MOL) stated that “Centrex has privileged access to competitive gas sources through its cooperation with Gazprom. In particular, CENTREX executives claim to have close personal relationships with Gazprom executives.”
The German news magazine Stern reported on September 13, 2007, that the Centrex Group had been established in Vienna in 2003 and was in turn owned by Centrex Group Holdings, a company registered in Limassol, Cyprus. Centrex Group Holdings was owned by Cypriote-based Siritia Ventures, Ltd., whose holding company was at that time, and still might be, a mysterious Russian company called OOO Rubin (see EDM, November 5).
The Centrex Group was originally bought by the Liechtenstein company IDF which was created by the Zurich-based Multina AG, a company fully owned by the Swiss lawyer Hans Baumgartner. Baumgartner is also a member of the board of directors of the Zug (Switzerland)-based company RosUkrEnergo, along with Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev, a company that has been accused by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of having criminal connections. These accusations have been repeatedly rejected by Gazprom spokesmen.
Centrex Central Asia Gas AG and Centrex Caspian Energy and Gas AG (which ceased operations in 2006) both listed Baumgartner as president. In addition to the above, Baumgartner was listed in the Zug Company Registry as president of Centrex Finance AG, a position he soon relinquished to Helmuth Bohunovsky who in turn turned it over to John F. Skinner, a British citizen living in Vienna.
Soon after IDF was created, Cyprus-based “Siritia Ventures” acquired all the shares of Centrex. Siritia Ventures was listed as “an associated company” of Gazprombank. This association ended in 2006, according to Gazprombank documents. Stern wrote that:
IDF has set up a fund for shareholdings in Centrex. The value of the shares—a minimum investment of one million dollars—has shot up since 2004. Anyone investing one million dollars in April 2004 would now be looking at more than 20 million dollars. Who are the owners of the shares in the IDF fund? The fund claims to have “no information.”
Siritia, with subsidiaries in Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Russia, and the British Virgin Islands failed to file audited financial statements for 2005 and 2006 according to Stern.
Why did Gazprom, acting through its fully-owned subsidiary Gazprom Germania, a company that is staffed by many former East German Stasi (secret police) agents, and OMV include Centrex Europe Energy & Gas AG in the Baumgarten gas hub deal? There are no clear answers, but one possible explanation is that by giving CEEGAS 20 percent of the shares, Gazprom would control 50 percent of the highly strategic CEGH and could sabotage the pro-Western Nabucco pipeline, which is envisioned to go to Baumgarten. It could also be a means of silently funneling money for high level Russian and Austrian officials into Liechtenstein and other off-shore accounts.