Norwegian company “Frupor” shows interest in building a large farm in the municipality Topoje of Fieri city. Investments totaled 22 million Euro and would employ over 1300 people. Despite detailed investment plan the norwegians were eliminated after 7 years of delay by a company which did not publish any strong project. Doubts raised about how competitive procedures were developed. The winning company is comprised of an administrator from Bangladesh, who turns out to have Albanian citizenship, regardless that our country he visited just twice and stayed for a few days. By the other site, Ministry of Agriculture refuses to give explanations.
By Endrit Habilaj dhe Leonard Bakillari
Calvary of the delay of the Norwegian company “Farm Albania”, a prestigious branch of “Frupor” begins in the year 2008. At that time, an Albanian delegation composed of executives from Municipality of Fieri visited an agriculture farm “Frupor” in Portugal. The reason was to see the model that will be implemented in Albania, specifically in the Municipality of Topoje of Fier city. Visits followed with the first request on 11.02.2010 to the Ministry of Agriculture that at that time was led by Genc Ruli. The request appeared the interest to take in concession 1000-2000 hectare land area, relying on project launched by the right government “Albania 1 euro”.
“At first there was a good wish from the Albanian politicians to support the project. I did not understand and read what are the reasons that Albanian bureaucrats start with positivity and are losing interest until withdrawn from the support of these projects that are major projects for agricultural development. “- says Bujar Zhuri, the representative of the Company” Farm Albania.
After a month, the Ministry of Agriculture gives an official reply. According to its answer, the land was owned by the Agency for Restitution and Compensation of Property , while was also requested an investment plan for what would be used specifically this land. The same decision had also the Minister of Agriculture Genc Ruli, during a meeting with Norwegian investors held about 3 months later. A day after meeting with Minister Ruli, held on 03.06.2010, Norwegian investors were welcomed by former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who expressed full support to the government for the investment in question. 10 months later “Farm Albania” had about the project for the construction of modern farm starting from the study of the land and up to the introduction of products that will be produced for export to European Union countries.
But the Ministry of Agriculture issued another obstacle, that of verification of land area. Although they spent about 3 years, the Ministry of Agriculture was working very slow to complete the procedures. In early 2012, “Farm Albania” submitted technical and financial feasibility study for the development of a farm with an area 1000 hectares. Studies and analyzes were made in the best laboratories of Norway. During this period, the new chairman of the Municipality of Topojë, Arben Voja, who had been elected a few months ago, met the Norwegian investors and ambitious project to build the farm.
Justice Journalists Association traveled to the municipality of Topojë to get acquainted with the land where the farm would be rise and contact the mayor. “Upon receiving the mandate as mayor of Topojë in June 2011, immediately he held meetings with Norwegian side that is interested in developing an agriculture project in our community, in about 1300 hectares of agricultural land of previous former agricultural enterprises . The investment consisted in the establishment of an agricultural farm for agricultural products, mainly vegetables for export. The impact that the project would bring will be more extensive in the economy, “said for the investigim.al, Mayor of Topoje, Arben Voja.
Norwegian investors of “Farm Albania” continued to wait for several months to sending a memo on 04.09.2012 to the prime minister of that period Sali Berisha, where they required the acceleration of the procedures by overcoming the legal barriers. The answer came immediately on the doors of Norwegians, but with a return to the starting point. Ministry of Agriculture reiterated the same position two years ago that the lands were on the administration of AKKP. If not enough delay, on 14.03.2013 they changed the rules of the “game”. Ministry of Agriculture urged Norwegians to give up from land acquisition with concession and applying for rent. Norwegians investors did not give up once again, looking two months later this area of land for rent. But the Ministry of Agriculture being at the end of the change of power never answer back.
With the arrival of the left government to power in August 2013, Mr.Ilir Meta, yet without being elected President of the Assembly visits agricultural farm “Frupor” in Portugal. In November 2013, the Norwegian investors were expected from the new Minister of Agriculture, Edmond Panariti, who after being made aware of the project several million euros, urged the resumption of proceedings from the beginning, getting back to the point “zero”. However, during this time some procedures began to walk rapidly. First of all land passed from AKKP to the ownership of the Ministry of Agriculture, while Norwegian investors were promised that the land would be given on concession “Albania 1 euro” and not rent.
But not passed even 3 months and on 24.02.2014 Norwegian investors was communicated that it changed the strategy and the land should be rented. During this time, the Norwegians on 11.03.2014 held regular meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Edmond Panariti, where they saw closely the land in Topojë of Fieri city. After review, the conclusion was reached that the Ministry of Agriculture did not ever present a project of such magnitude in the market for export sales that was set up to be a model for our agriculture.
While a “Dejavu” was recorded for Norwegian investors after surprisingly a day after meeting with Panariti they were welcomed by Prime Minister Edi Rama. The same situation was repeated also by former Prime Minister Berisha. During the meeting with Prime Minister Rama maximum support was provided by the government, as this project was a model for agriculture. A source at the Ministry of Agriculture, said to investigim.al that the head of the government Edi Rama has been informed of every step of the proceedings involving also the government’s staff. So it seemed that the interest of the government, “Rama” was high because the meetings were intense. At the third meeting with the Minister Panariti, the latter said that his institution would start again full study of the land, and asked the Norwegian investors to deposit a request for rent the land.
Investors of “Farm Albania” trying to save time also provided financial assistance to the Ministry of Agriculture to study the land, but it was refused. Despite this, “Farm Albania” once again compiled the complete file with the application for land acquisition rent. Justice Journalists Association also has a copy of the application’s receipt of land rent, which is dated on 30.10.2014, the day on which are submitted all the necessary documents asked by the Ministry of Agriculture.
On 17.01.2015 the Ministry of Agriculture opened the procedure for granting agricultural land lease of 1,146 hectares in the municipality of Topojë in Fier. The announcement was published in the newspaper “Sot” and the call would be open until February 17, 2015, 10:00. Exactly 17 February and fixed at 10.00 the Norwegian investors to “Farm Albania” were in the hall of the opening bid to introduce the project. But with a questionable decision, Norwegian investors, who were the only ones in the hall of offerings, got a notice for postponement of the bid opening at 14.00, due to the absence of one of the members of the Rental Board of the agricultural lands .A senior of the Agriculture Ministry said on condition of anonymity to the investigim.al that this kind of practice followed by the institution where he is a member is a flagrant violation of the law. According to the senior, if will be extended the period, then this should become the official announcement in the newspaper, following the same procedure for the announcement of the bid openings.
Contacted by investigim.al to clarify whether there is a violation or not in the procedures followed, the lawyer Eduard Mullaraj explains problems noted. “It is a blatant violation of law, discrimination is made to a party who has expressed interest in this concession and between the processing commission which should treat this issue and which should come out with a reasoned decision why they change the date or the time of concessional reviewing bids, “said the lawyer Edward Mullaraj.
But changing the timetable and composition of the evaluation committee members were not enrolled in a record as requires by regular procedure thus expressing lack of seriousness to millions of euro in investments. Nevertheless, Norwegian investors to “Farm Albania, insisted to wait until 14:00 hours to participate in the competition procedure. At 14:00, suddenly enters the race a company which was not presented ever and shows interest in the same parcel of land that wanted to rent the Norwegian investors. Surprisingly, this company which was called “Agri Product Europe”, with a Dutch administrator, Servatius Petrus Gerardus Huibers and a partner from Bangladesh, Mohammad Karim winning without presenting any concrete project at the time of evaluation of tenders.
The senior official of the Ministry of Agriculture, said confidentially that the project presented by the winning company “Agri Product Europe” is not signed by any of the members of the Board of the Agricultural Land Lease, thereby creating opportunities for change the documents in future . The official from the Ministry says that the documents may not have had any project and this is flagrantly avoid dumping of the signature’s board of 6 members, including the one sent by Prime Minister Edi Rama to follow the process in question.
Investigim.al asked the Mayor of Topojë, Arben Voja regarding the interest of other companies to this plot of land of 1200 hectares. “Before that went on stage as the winner of this auction, I have not had any contact with representatives of the company ‘Agri Product Europe. They have come to me saying they want to invest here. After becoming auction, then I was known that this company is interested in the land and we have initially received the information if they wanted to do farming in these lands, but still to this day I have not had any contact with investors, “said Arben Voja the Mayor of Topojë.
Justice Journalists Association began investigating the company in question to prove the seriousness of the investment and if there are violations in the procedures of obtaining this competition. Initially contacted by telephone by a representative of the “Agri Product Europe”. During communications representative said: “The administrators of the company are on holidays, do not come now. All August they will not be in Albania. They are serious investors. They have a project, but this you should get to the Ministry of Agriculture. ”
Investigim.al reveals a fictitious contract. In 2013, the administrator of the “Agri Product Europe” from the Netherlands, Servatius Petrus Gerardus Huibers, sells the company sells shares to Mohammad Karim from Banglades. But the contract available from investigim.al shows that Dutch citizens firm was seller as well the buyer. For lawyers it is a blatant violation of law which aims to track money laundering. “The contract is an expression of the will of both parties. There may be selling shares unilaterally when one sells one. Any kind of authority that can take this citizen or legal person has a procedure for the sale of shares. A proxy does not provide for the right to sell the stock. In this case we are dealing with concealment and match-fixing. It is a deliberate concealment of all its revenue. So this is an illegal action, “explains the lawyer Edward Mullaraj.
Violation of the order of the company “Agri Product Europe” has to do with conflict of interest. The company has contracted for legal aid the lawyer B.N, who works at the law studio owned by the father in law of a senior official of the Ministry of Agriculture. 18 months ago this law studio was led by Vojo Bregu, who currently holds the position of Secretary General in the Ministry of Agriculture.
“I am convinced that the” Agri Product Europe “is a ghost, I also said to Albanian Prime Minister, I told Mr. Meta as well. My cell phone is full of communication SMS that I have said here that they are a piece of ghost companies, because they are displayed in a late moment and did not have any knowledge of these lands and their products. “- said Mr.Zhuri, the representative of the company” Farm Albania “.
The company “Agri Product Europe” in the financial statements secured by investigim.al, turns out to have a debt of 71 million new Lek raising doubts about the company’s capabilities and the power invested in 1,200 hectares land. But the story does not end here, after because the partner of the company “Agri Product Europe” from Bangladesh, Mohammed Karim results to have received Albanian citizenship in 2014. Investigim.al has available the data of TIMS system which show that citizen from Bangladesh entered in Albania only twice and has stayed a few days. But the Constitution clearly provides that who benefits the Albanian citizenship. “It is a law that should be considered by lawmakers but can not get citizenship a foreigner coming one or two or more times in Albania. One criterion is that it must remain three years, “says the lawyer Edward Mullaraj.
Coming back to investments in land already acquired by “Agri Product Europe” shows that these suspicious investors are not presented never in Topojë of Fier, even to see parcels that they have rented. The Project” Agri Product Europe we have seen, it is about building a mushroom series but so far has remained there. The number does not have the figures but the greenhouse surface was about 1700 square meters while the company is taking 1,200 hectares. I do not know what is on their mind, will walk with this prediction or alter destination, “said Arben Voja , Mayor Topojë.
Justice Journalists Association tried several times to contact the Minister of Agriculture Edmond Panariti if the winning company had a project but also to express the institutional position on this issue. The minister’s answer was short and without detail: “When I asked, the question which you refer is in the Court. Be patient and wait for the decisions of the court. ”
Currently “Farm Albania” has filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court, requesting the invalidation of the award of the company “Agri Product Europe”. In the sessions held so far they have lacked the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, who have not yet given an explanation on the issue, despite continuous interest by the investigim.al.
“We will go to Strasbourg. We will do it as a model. We wanted to build a model farm and if not made this investment model for Albania and the Albanians, we will make a model to the Strasbourg Court, I am committed to this. “- Says Buajr Zhuri, the representative of the company” Farm Albania “.
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