Ukraine will try again to privatise the Odessa Pre-Port chemicals plant and hopes it will fetch $1 billion, the country's privatisation authority said on Wednesday.
Dmytro Parfyonenko, deputy head of the State Property Fund, said a starting price would be set at 3 billion hryvnias (about $600,000) at an auction due April 21-22, with authorities hoping to raise 5 billion hryvnias from the sale.
President Viktor Yushchenko last year suspended the sale of the plant, one of Ukraine's largest chemical producers, on the grounds that a buyer of the plant and a nearby loading facility could gain a monopoly and raise commodity export prices.
Ukrainian media had reported that Yushchenko was expected not to voice concern again because a new government, in place since December and led by his ally Yulia Tymoshenko, would alter the conditions of sale.
The chemicals firm was to have been sold last October, and the State Property Fund then said about eight buyers were interested, including Russia's Evrokhim and Akron, Ukraine's Azot, Dneprazot, Chernihivske Khimvolokno and a Canadian party.
The plant, at Yuzhniy on the Black Sea coast, sends most of its output to Asian and Latin American countries, as well as other ex-Soviet states. It made $32 million in net profit on revenues of $225 million in the first half of last year.
This sell-off is part of the government's privatisation plans for the year, announced this month, including the sale of the dominant fixed-line operator Ukrtelekom, which has been on the block for 10 years.
It is not unusual for sell-offs to be announced then scrapped or contested in court in the former Soviet state where the post-Communist privatisation process has been opaque at best.
Tymoshenko and Yushchenko had both promised a cleaner and more open process, a pledge going back to 2004 when they stood side by side during the 2004 "Orange Revolution" street protests that brought the president to power.
But squabbling between the president and the previous cabinet run by his arch rival, Viktor Yanukovich, reduced privatisations to a minimum last year, earning the treasury just $475 million, instead of the anticipated $2.1 billion.
This year, the government is targeting $1.6 billion and says it can comfortably achieve that. The cash is needed to fulfil Tymoshenko's social spending promises, including $4 billion in compensation for people who lost Soviet-era savings.