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Greek Steel Giant Shuts Over Unpaid Electric Bills

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Greece's once-dominant steel producer Halyvourgiki. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Kostas Katomeris)

ATHENS - While Greece’s nickel producer Larco is being given time to pay overdue gas bills, the country’s once-dominant steel producer Halyvourgiki went into a shutdown mode on Dec. 18 when its electricity was turned off because it couldn’t pay.

Grid operator ADMIE executed Public Power Corporation’s order and pulled the plug over the arrearage of 31.4 million euros ($35.76 million) with the steel company not being able to work out a repayment plan.

The company ceased production in 2015, but Constantinos Angelopoulos said  the only reason the business had continued to operate was to protect its workers.

PPC, itself facing cash flow problems, had offered Halyvourgiki a grace period in order to commence a repayment plan, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said.

Workers' representatives were briefed by PPC officials earlier in the month over the problem, the paper said, adding that the company didn’t offer a plan to repay and keep receiving electricity as a self-supplied consumer.

Speaking on the sidelines of a PPC shareholders' general assembly, PPC CEO E. Panagiotakis said the utility will seek legal means to get the company - which said it couldn’t pay - to find a way to do so anyway.

The company has operated for nearly a century, being Greece's only fully vertical steel mill during the 1960s and 1970s. The company began as a nail manufacturer in 1932 and developed into a small-scale steel producer in south-central Athens in 1938.

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Greece's once-dominant steel producer Halyvourgiki. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Christos Bonis)

The Elefsina plant was inaugurated in 1953, with Greece's first blast furnace opened in 1963. A second blast furnace in 1975 raised its production capacity to 2.5 million tons of steel annually.

It’s been on a long slide that began in 1981 and Greece’s now more than 8 ½ year-long economic and austerity crisis was too much for it to bear as it cut back and ceased production of steel.

The main opposition New Democracy earlier charged the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA pressured the country’s natural gas company to keep supplying a company owned by a former banker facing a long line of charges of embezzlement and wrongdoing.

The fertilizer manufacturer is run by Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, who was released from prison in 2014 because he said he didn’t feel well and as he has yet to face trial for allegations he stole at least 51 million euros ($58.19 million) in various loan schemes from the former Proton Bank where was a major shareholder.

SYRIZA and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have been claiming their political rivals are corrupt and behind a number of major scandals and the Conservatives struck back with the newspaper Ta Nea reporting that a close associate of Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas earned hundreds of thousands of euros in payments from Lavrentiadis’ companies in 2016 and 2017.

A former head of state-run gas utility DEPA Theodoros Kitsakis, appointed by SYRIZA, said at least five party ministers he didn’t name told him not to cut off the supply of gas for the company although it hadn’t paid 120 million euros ($136.88 million) in arrears.