From: Alice Taylor
Azerbaijan Sets Sights on Supplying Balkans with Natural Gas Amid Allegations of Money Laundering, Murder, and Corruption

The Prime Minister of Azerbaijan has expressed interest in expanding the gas network of state-owned energy company SOCAR, in the country.

“If a gas network is established in Albania, Albania will be our natural partner and we can export gas there as well. It’s possible to supply Azerbaijani gas to other neighbouring countries in the Balkans,” he said.

SOCAR has made the news in recent years following its involvement in a deal, investigated by Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The deal was ousted as a scam and Caruana Galizia was assassinated with a car bomb in October 2017. Several different sources have ascertained that Azerbaijan had at least a part in the plan to kill her.

The Azeri-owned company signed an 18-year deal worth $1 billion, to supply Malta’s new power station with natural gas. In fact, SOCAR was purchasing the gas from Shell and then selling to the Maltese Electrogas Consortium, which in turn sold it to Enemalta.

The issue was that Enemalta was paying Electrogas twice the market rate for gas. In other words, a huge profit was being made out of the deal by SOCAR, while Maltese taxpayers were being left out of pocket. 

The deal was reported on by anti-corruption organisation Global Witness. They said there were major deficiencies in the tendering process of SOCAR, leaving Malta at risk of “embezzlement and rigged procurement.”

Furthermore, a businessman behind one of the companies involved in the Electrogas Consortium- Yorgen Fenech, was charged in conjunction with Caruana Galizia’s assassination. The journalist had been investigating the deal and publishing information related to corruption and scandals between the Azeri government and the Maltese government.

It was then discovered that Azerbaijan was using Maltese banks to launder money. Accounts in the now-defunct Pilatus Bank were involved in funnelling up to EUR 3 billion into the EU that was being used to bribe politicians and pay for positive PR.

It was also reported that Keith Schembri, the ex- Maltese Chief of Staff received some $430,000 in payments from sources believed to be those connected to SOCAR and the Azeri state. The payments were made five weeks after Schembri, ex-Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi,  disgraced ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat visited Baku to meet with Aliyev.

Muscat and Schembri were forced to resign after links between them and the assassination of Caruana Galizia became public.

In 2018, the Albanian government signed a deal with SOCAR and announced its plan for a 40km gas pipeline in the country. The Albanian government has talked about the positives of the “gasification of the country” and the economic and social benefits it will bring. These include lower energy prices and potentially less reliance on hydropower. The TAP project and other future potential deals are considered important for Albania and the region.

A potential energy deal between Albania and Azerbaijan is just the latest in a series of ‘copycat’ moves made by the Rama administration. There are several instances of plans that appear to be made in a similar vein to that of fellow Socialist, Muscat.

Another example is the plan to bring Steward Healthcare into Albania. Exit has previously revealed how the private health care company, involved in a criminal investigation and scandal in Malta is planning to take public land, property, and hospitals to profit from them.

Prime Minister Edi Rama also expressed his intention to start a cash-for-passports scheme at a Henley and Partners Conference in 2019. Henley is the concessionaires of the Malta scheme that has been condemned across Europe for granting passports to criminals and those under criminal investigation for fraud, money laundering, and embezzlement. They were also found to have links to Cambridge Analytica who notoriously misused personal data to influence elections. Following widespread outrage including from EU institutions, Rama has been silent on the passport plan.