Cleaning up south-east Europe’s energy sector


Levels of corruption in south-east Europe are notoriously high – especially in the energy sector.

Whilst citizens pay a high price for a low-quality service, outlaws fill their pockets.
A recent study from the South East Europe Sustainable Energy Policy Programme estimates that tens of millions of euros have been lost in the past few decades in seven countries – Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania and Croatia – in the region.

Allegations of corruption are numerous, yet they rarely lead to prosecutions or charges. On the contrary, journalists can end up in court for blowing the whistle on criminal behaviour.

In Kosovo, for instance, the report reveals that, in April 2012, Arbana Xharra, a journalist for Zëri, wrote an article commenting that businessman Bejtush Zhugolli and two of his brothers were financially supporting Prime Minister Hachim Thaçi’s election campaign in return for lucrative contracts at the Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEK).

Soon after the publication of the article, Bejtush Zhugolli sued the journalist and the newspaper.

However, Xharra was found not guilty.

When Selvije Bajrami, another Zëri journalist, published a report on the first court session, Zhugolli also sued her. She was also found not guilty.

But were there any investigations following these serious allegations of corruption? None whatsoever.

It is estimated that from 1999 until today, over €1.2 billion has been invested in Kosovo’s existing power plants. Notwithstanding, its energy sector remains one of the least developed in Europe.

So where has all the money gone?

A closed court case provides a reality snapshot.

Between 2000 and 2002, KEK was headed by German national Jo Trutschler.

He obtained his position with a forged CV. And it was later revealed that he transferred about US$4.3 million to fake companies in Gibraltar during his time with KEK.

Meanwhile, the country was beset with frequent power cuts.

Trutschler was finally sentenced in a German court to 42 months in prison for breach of trust and misusing an academic title. Most of the money stolen was recovered, which goes to show that assets can be recovered and criminals can be punished.

Although it must be said that, at that time, KEK was under international management.
If we want to talk about providing “cleaning energy” in south-east Europe we must recognise that the issue is two-fold. Huge investments in clean and efficient energy systems are needed in the region.

But for renewable energies to become a reality, renewed practices, laws and institutions are even more urgent.