Prosecutors Target Gazprom Licenses

Like many other residents of the Astrakhan region's Kharabali district, Nina Popova has grown tired of using a coal oven to warm her home.

"We're all praying for the day they extend the natural gas lines to our village," Popova said.

But she has grown disenchanted by the endless promises made by officials in the district administration and by Gazprom. So has the Prosecutor General's Office, which singled out the Kharabali district in a report recently sent to the Natural Resources Ministry.

In the report, federal investigators accuse the state-controlled gas monopoly of systematically violating licensing agreements and environmental laws across Russia.

"The Prosecutor General's Office has asked Natural Resources Minister Vitaly Artyukhov to confiscate licenses in the cases where Gazprom has failed to fulfill its obligations," Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaly Kolmogorov said in statements reported Thursday by Interfax.

Gazprom officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov has led a number of crackdowns on natural resource companies. Their tax payments and business practices have come under increased scrutiny with President Vladimir Putin in charge, and in July the president's administration floated a proposal to renationalize the industry.

The Natural Resources Ministry, however, for now does not intend to take back the licenses, which are the key to tapping lucrative reserves, said Deputy Minister Ivan Glumov.

"We closely cooperate with the Prosecutor General's Office on issues of abiding by environmental legislation," Glumov said. "The most important thing is not taking away companies' licenses -- it's eliminating the violations."

The ministry is auditing Gazprom as part of a separate, nationwide check and will report its results to prosecutors by Sept. 13, he added.

Prosecutors say the gas giant's subsidiaries have carried out projects in the Stavropol territory and the republic of Dagestan as well as the Omsk, Astrakhan and Tyumen regions without getting the required approval from a state environmental commission first.

In the republic of Bashkortostan and the northern cities of Urengoi and Nadym, Gazprom subsidiaries took control of large tracts of land and forests without getting clearance from local or regional authorities.

In Astrakhan, Gazprom's wholly owned subsidiary was to extend natural gas to Kharabali district as part of a license agreement for production it was carrying out in the area. It failed to do so, and a woman who answered the phone at the subsidiary's office said that "Moscow journalists had no business listening to the complaints of Astrakhan residents."