By Alice Elizabeth Taylor
TAP Pipeline Given Philanthropy Award Despite Ongoing Concerns

Representatives of the Albanian government, parliament, and Tirana-based diplomatic corps have given the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) consortium with an award for philanthropy.

Malfor Nuri, the representative of the TAP project in the country stated that TAP had deserved the award because they invested in 30 projects in Albania from which 200,000 people benefited.

The TAP pipeline is designed to connect with the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), crossing Greece, Albania, and the Adriatic Sea before coming ashore in Southern Italy to connect to the Italian natural gas network. Once the project is fully operational, it will provide a direct transportation rout for natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

The consortium behind the TAP pipeline includes SOCAR, the State oil company of Azerbaijan who are currently embroiled in a scandal in Malta involving kickbacks of millions of euros to incumbent politicians. The ruling family of Azerbijan was also found to have accounts in the now closed Pilatus Bank, the owner of which is facing 125 years in American prison on charges of fraud and evading sanctions. The same Azeri government is also accused of laundering money and bribing EU politicians and organisations to the tune of almost EUR 3 billion.

The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) and the World Bank have provided the project with over $10 billion in loans, a move that has been criticised by European watchdog, the BankWatch Network. They state that the public financing of such a project violates the wishes of the communities impacted, as well as the banks’ own social and environmental principles.

According to Human Rights Watch, the EIB should have conditioned the loan on the improvement of human rights as under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, they are not supposed to finance projects that support or encourage human rights violations. The ERBD approved their loan despite the banks commitment to transparency and the fact that Azerbaijan was suspended from a key extractive revenue transparency initiative.

The Azeri government have a dismal human rights record and are known for their violent crackdown on critics, dissenting voices, and journalists. Officials have even been linked to the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was investigating the links of the ruling family to corruption and money laundering. The regime is implicated in multiple counts of torture, arbitrary detention and arrest, media freedom infringements, police and state brutality, disappearances, and an ever-expanding list of other violations.

In addition to these links, the TAP pipeline has bee widely criticised for alleged infringements on human rights and accusations of high-level corruption.

In a report entitled “Risky Business” BankWatch also reported that 15 of the firms contracted in the overall project had been implicated in various forms of corruption including a number of their executives having been convicted, or facing criminal investigation and prosecution for a variety of offences. Offences include links to organised crime, the bribery of state officials, money laundering and tax evasion, and a number of political scandals.

Then of course there is the matter of the communities that have been impacted by the construction of the pipelines as well as large pipes running through their land, homes, and villages. Across all areas affected by the project, there have been multiple reports of forced evictions and people not being adequately compensated for their land and livelihoods. Whist TAP claims it adheres to stringent compensation principles, the story from the people directly affected seems to differ quite substantially.

Whilst there is no doubt that TAP have engaged in an element of Corporate Social Responsibility during their time in Albania and other countries affected by the project, it seems the act of giving them an award for philanthropy could be considered as a little tone deaf. Of course, a few good acts and projects are to be commended, but we should not be ignoring the ongoing controversy surrounding the project and those involved in it.