From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Incinerator Scandal Suspects Declared Internationally Wanted

Klodian Zoto and Stela Gugallja have been declared internationally wanted following their involvement in the controversial incinerators deal, which is being investigated by the country’s Special Court Against Organised Crime and Corruption (SPAK).

The two are suspected of leaving the country after police searches failed to locate them. The court has imposed the measure of prison arrest on them.

Former Minister of the Environment Lefter Koka has also been arrested in conjunction with the investigation. He held the environmental portfolio for Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) between 2013 and 2017 before becoming a deputy for the Socialist Party between 2017-2021. He was elected to parliament in the 2021 general election but resigned from his mandate.

Koka is reportedly accused of abuse of office, corruption and money laundering in connection with the deal.

SPAK has also reportedly seized the Elbasan incinerator and is continuing its investigations into other persons, including public and private individuals and legal entities.

From the investigations so far, it is believed that the process of granting the concession was contrary to concession and PPP laws.

Zoto and Gugallja are suspected of “using a fictitious scheme of execution of payments, made through the two respective companies to cover up and conceal the true nature of the origin of monetary amounts and the true nature of their transfer and relocation.”

The Albanian government has been paying three concession holders €72 million since 2015 for the construction and operation of three incinerators, two of which have not yet been built, while the other is operating at half capacity. The plan was that the incinerators would burn waste for energy, creating a revenue stream while dealing with the issue of waste disposal in the country.

All three incinerators were given to the same group of people, creating virtually a monopoly.

The Albanian incinerators were created from no demand, no requirement, and no official proposal. It all started with a request from a newly set up company with no capital or experience.

Only four months and three weeks after the company’s creation, the government awarded it a  €22-million-worth concession contract for the Elbasan incinerator. Through the same scheme, within two years, it awarded concession contracts for the Fier and Tirana incinerators to the same persons, thus creating a monopoly in practice. The company in question still did not have any incinerator experience, waste management, or anything else.

The dubious procedure was further exacerbated by the terms of the contracts, which appeared to favour the companies to the detriment of the state.

  • The government had to start paying the concessionaire before the construction was completed;
  • The government has to compensate the concession holders when they do not have any waste to burn.

As a result of these terms, the concessionaires have delayed construction while regularly receiving government payments.

The Elbasan incinerator is the only one completed and operating only from time to time because they do not have enough waste to burn. Construction of Fier and Tirana incinerators should have been completed in 2018, but that hasn’t happened yet. Yet, the concessionaire still receives money from the government for not burning waste in incinerators that are not even constructed.

Exit Explains: Albania’s Three Waste Incinerators

Prime Minister Edi Rama confirmed the government would continue to pay the controversial incinerator companies, despite the owners of the companies being declared wanted by prosecutors.

During his last address to the nation in 2021, he said the government would continue to implement the legal contract, regardless of the fact the beneficiaries are under investigation for active corruption and money laundering.

Rama told BIRN, “they are contractual relations imposed by law to continue until there are final decisions by the courts. These are contractual relations that must be implemented until justice speaks.”