Albanian Oil in Russian Hands

The company Transoil Group AG, whose shareholders include Russian company Gazprom Neft and Serbian company NIS, has won the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy tender for the use of the oil deposits found in the south of the country. According to documentation published by BIRN, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, by announcing Transoil the tender winner, encroached on the equality principle of the tender, being aware of a flagrant conflict of interest involving Albpetrol and Transoil.

According to documentation acquired by BIRN, Transoil Group AG is responsible for several infractions and, according to a fair assessment shouldn’t have been the winner of this tender.

The company has not paid the $6500 fee per oil deposit, a condition set by Albpetrol, within the deadline. It completed its payments 4 days after the bidding had opened. Therefore, until April 4, 2018, the Albpetrol bank account was empty. The Ministry denies this fact, telling BIRN that the payments were made on March 30, 2018.

The company seems to owe Albpetrol money and oil

Transoil Group Sh.a. has outstanding debts towards Albpetrol from its previous operations in the field of Visoka, and has had previous clashes with the National Natural Resources Agency, AKBN, for constant violations of contract.

According to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, the company owes Albpetrol ““6,699.92 tonnes of oil […] whereas the fees to be paid for various services amount to 64.105.586 lekë.” However, the Ministry explained these debts by stressing that this was a commercial deal between Albpetrol and Transoil Group.

Transoil–Albpetrol conflict of interest

According to BIRN, Albpetrol did not make the above public because during the tender, the brother of Albpetrol’s CEO, Kastriot Bejtaj has served as technical operations manager for Transoil Group Sh.a at the field of Visoka, until April 1, 2018. Minister Gjiknuri was aware of this conflict of interest.

Nonetheless, these infractions did not keep the parent company, Transoil Group AG, from announcing on its official website that it had placed a bid with Albpetrol for three other oil fields since April 2017, demonstrating a certainty that it would reach an agreement with the Albanian state-owned oil company by the end of 2017.

Transoil Group sh.a.

Transoil Group is registered in Switzerland and its owners are as yet unknown. Its Albanian branch is run by Shefqet Dizdari and has business ties to Gazprom Neft, owned by the Russian Gazprom. 50.23% of Gazprom’s shares are currently controlled by the Russian government.

Transoil Group AG was founded in 2011 in the Swiss canton of Zug, and operates in Russia, Belarus, and Albania. It is the full owner of Transoil Group Sh.a., an Albanian company that has been using the oil field of Visoka since 2011, via an oil agreement with Albpetrol.

The Ministry did not tell BIRN who the shareholders of the Swiss company were, but it did stress that they were not Gazprom Neft or NIS.

“According to the information we have, none of the companies you mention have any rights in the oil agreement Transoil Group signed with the Albanian government,” the Ministry stated. “Meanwhile, it is beyond the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy to be aware of a company’s possible commercial transactions with other objects outside of the oil agreement.”

The suspect tender

In February 2018, Albpetrol opened the tender bidding process for the use of three oil fields, Cakran-Mollaj, Gorisht-Cokul, and Amonica. There were 9 bidders participating in the tender including Bankers Petroleum, Transoil Group AG, Shandong Kerui Petroleum Equipment, Letho, Verssa Versatile, Pennine, Alcan, Fluid Oil and Zennith Energy.

Pennine and Zennith Energy were disqualified as they failed to pay the $6500 per oil deposit fee, demanded by Albpetrol.

On May 9, via order no. 495, Minister Damian Gjiknuri announced that Transoil Group AG won the tender and formed a negotiation team to sign the oil agreement with the company.

Ties to Russia and Serbia

The Amonica oil field was previously exploited by Phoenix Petroleum Gas, whereas the Cakran-Mollaj and Gorisht-Cokul ones were used by GBC Oil Company, a successor of Transatlantic Albania Ltd. Both companies’ contracts were cancelled prematurely as a result of outstanding unpaid fees and violations of contract.

Once these oil fields were vacant, in April 2017, Transoil Group AG filed a request for their use at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy. At the same time, a similar request is filed by an obscure company named Jurimex.

Similar to Transoil Group, the Jurimex shareholders include an Austrian oil merchant called Robert Nowikovsky, Gazprom Neft, and Serbian NIS. Gazprom is Russia’s third largest gas company. Nafta Industrija Srbje, NIS, is a Serbian oil and gas company, 51% of whose shares were purchased in 2012 by Gazprom Neft, in a €400 million agreement between Serbia and Russia.

Dizdari, Transoil Group’s CEO, filed a complaint regarding Jurimex with Gazprom in Russia. In it he states that Nowikovsky and Gazprom Neft’s Igor Tarasov had entered a legal, good-faith agreement with Transoil Group, while at the same time getting involved in an illicit backdoor scheme, that aims at sneaking Gazprom Neft into the Albanian market.

Nonetheless, even though the Ministry accepted the Jurimex offer to use the oil fields, the oil agreement never came to pass as a result of media accusations alleging the company had ties to Russia.