Bulgaria postpones decision in Czech energy row

Bulgaria's energy regulator postponed until April a decision on whether to revoke the distribution licence of Czech state-run power giant CEZ amid violent street rallies against high bills, the regulator announced Wednesday.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had vowed on Tuesday to strip the company of its licence, while the regulator slapped heavy fines on both CEZ and the two other utilities -- Austrian EVN and Czech Energo-Pro -- for breaching their licencing agreements.

Borisov's right-wing government bore the brunt of the 10-day rallies with violent clashes between protesters and police Monday and Tuesday leading to the premier's shock announcement of his cabinet's resignation earlier Wednesday.

"The licence revoking procedure has only started but CEZ still has time to correct the malpractices and if our experts find that this was done, the licence may not be revoked," energy regulator member Andon Rokov told journalists on Wednesday.

The regulator will decide the issue on April 16, Rokov added.

Most of the 21 cases of malpractices found at CEZ consisted in evading legal public procurement procedures by hiring subcontractors without holding a public tender, the regulator said.

The company had denied any wrongdoing.

"In Bulgaria, CEZ fulfils all duties imposed by the regulatory framework set by the local energy regulatory body," the company's Prague headquarters said in a statement Tuesday, accusing the Bulgarian government of politicising the problem.

The row comes at a hard time for the 66-percent state-owned Czech utility giant, which is central Europe's biggest utility and public company, whose shares are traded on the Prague and Warsaw stock exchanges.

The company lost in January its distribution licence for Albania in a similar dispute about high electricity prices.

Apart from the Czech republic, CEZ also operates in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey.