Prishtina-Skopje 'Arber Xhaferi' Highway/Ilustration

Kosovo Prosecution only Partially Investigated the Over 53-Million-Euro Extra Payment for Motorway

Kosovo prosecution did not properly investigate the huge extra payment the Kosovo government made to a US-Turkish consortium to build a highway, for which former Minister of Infrastructure Pal Lekaj was convicted. Assets of the company, the now convicted individuals, and of the Ministry were not checked.

Kallxo Përnime show, on Friday, was told that only 2.5% of the total expenditures for the construction of highways in Kosovo have been investigated. Even the recent conviction of four former public officials regarding the extra payment of over 53 million Euros for the construction of the Arben Xhaferi highway, linking Kosovo and North Macedonia, from the US-Turkish consortium Bechtel & Enka, has not been properly investigated. 

Managing editor of Kallxo, Kreshnik Gashi,  told Kallxo Përnime show that proper investigations had not been conducted because no one took secret investigation measures nor checked the assets of the Ministry officials or Bechtel Enka’s company, and it is unknown where the extra 53 million euros have been spent.

“The highway contracts are the ‘bears’ of this country, there are still no prosecutors, policemen or ministers who dare to search in depth. People of Kosovo should know that this government and the previous ones have not accounted for the total of 2 billion euros paid for the construction of highways; this 53 million Euros is just 2.5 percent of the total value spent for highways”, Gashi claimed. 

“This contract has not even gone to the Prosecutor, we need people who dare to check these contracts,” he added.

In June 2018, BIRN found out that the initial contract to construct the motorway, signed in July 2014, had come with a price tag of 599,944,263 euros. But 15 months later, the cost had jumped by more than 8 million as a result of the increase in VAT imposed by the government, from 16 to 18 per cent.

When construction started in 2014, the work was due to finish in 2018.

The inadequate handling of the case has raised many questions and the case has been closed without proper investigation, Gashi believes. According to him,  with the agreement in 2017, which was not signed, “the Government gave them (Bechtel & Enka consortium) the opportunity to request the additional 53 million euros”.

“In 2017, the process began, no one had secret measures, no one has had their accounts checked, no one has had their houses and cars confiscated, Bechtel & Enka account was not open, it is unknown where this money has gone,” Gashi claimed.

One of the convicted Eset Berisha, the former advisor of Kosovo’s former Minister of Infrastructure, Pal Lekaj, admitted that the prosecution had not checked his bank accounts at Kallxo Përnime show, on Friday. 

On January 31, 2024, the Prishtina Basic Court, found Pal Lekaj, his advisor Eset Berisha, and two other officials of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Nebih Shatri and Besim Tahiri, guilty for the criminal violation of abuse of position or official authority, in complicity.

The court confirmed the prosecution’s claims that Lekaj, as head of Inter-Ministerial Council for the construction of the motorway, had engaged his adviser, Eset Berisha, to negotiate the extra cost with the company. With Berisha’s help, Leka “completely ignored” the opinion of the highway’s supervision company, Hill International. This had concluded that the government owed around 14.8 million euros to Bechtel & Enka, whose “additional financial demands” it called “totally unreasonable and unacceptable”.

“By hiding and not presenting the real situation to the other members of the [ministerial] Council, Lekaj together with Berisha … pushed other members of the council, under fake facts … to recommend that the government approve Bechtel & Enka request for 53.1 million euros, for extension of construction works,” the indictment in the case said.

Hill’s opinion could have saved the government around 38 million euros.

Berisha insisted that the extra payment of over 53 million euros, for the US-Turkish consortium Bechtel & Enka, was the government’s fault  for the delay in paying for the construction of the Arben Xhaferi highway linking Kosovo and North Macedonia.

“We were accused, tried, and convicted for abuse of office, for the decision that has been taken from the government of Kosovo for the payment of 53 million Euros,” Berisha told Kallxo Përnime show. 

Viona Bunjaku, from Levizja Fol, a Prishtina based NGO focusing on governance and fight against corruption, agreed with Gashi, claiming that the prosecution should have expanded the investigations to other ministries. 

Ministers and/or officials from “all the ministries that voted for the decision should be in front of the court, in this case even the former Prime Minister Haradinaj should have appeared in court considering he signed this decision,” she said.

Gashi also added that the current Vetevendosje led Government has also failed to fulfill its promises to publish major contracts and has not shown it has the courage to investigate such cases in this country.

“The Ministry of Infrastructure was only one of the members of the Interministerial Committee established by the government,” he added, explaining that “the negotiations were made in 2018. In May a meeting was held, where the Prime Minister (at the time- head of Kosovo current opposition party the Future Alliance of Kosovo, AAK, Ramush Haradinaj) with the staff and ministers was present”. In this meeting, according to Berisha it was decided to request a legal opinion. 

Berisha, on Friday, explained that “in January 2017, the extension of the contract (with Bechtel & Enka) term for 11.3 months was agreed without defining the cost, since until that moment there were still four months left until the end of the initial contract which foresaw forty two months for 600 million euros”.

Meanwhile, in February 2018, the request of the US-Turkish consortium Bechtel & Enka came with a 53 million euro extra payment, calling what is legally known as ‘legitimate expectations’ considering they expected “to receive six hundred million euros until January 1, 2018, but the government had given only 300 million”, Berisha further stated.

This agreement, according to the prosecution, was concluded by the defendants without specifying the financial cost, which was in violation of the Public Procurement Law and the Statute and Code of Conduct of the Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee. By not determining the cost in the agreement, the prosecution argues that the defendants had left the door open for the Bechtel & Enka consortium to submit a payment request.

After the 2018 request from Bechtel & Enka, the Government sought a legal opinion from the Ministry of Infrastructure within 24 hours, in which, according to Berisha, the director of the Legal Department of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Avdi Kamerolli had prepared two versions to remove responsibility from himself after he “had felt uncertain about the opinion he had given”.

“He provided two opinions, the first one stating that the contract agreed upon in 2017 without a cost definition is in full compliance with the current law, then he added an exoneration clause stating that ‘other explanatory opinions should be sought from the public department and those responsible for contract management”, Berisha further explained.

Berisha emphasized that on that day, Kamerolli reported the case because he felt unsure about the opinion he had given. “The prosecution started collecting evidence around mid-June, ” Berisha added.

Lekaj was sentenced to prison for a duration of three years and eight months, and banned from exercising public functions in public administration for three years and six months after he finishes his prison sentence.

Berisha was sentenced to three years and three months’ imprisonment and banned from holding public functions for three years after finishing his prison sentence.

Nebih Shatri, the former general secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure, and Besim Tahiri, the former director of the public procurement, were sentenced to one year and eight months imprisonment each, and banned from holding public positions for two years after their prison sentences end.

05/02/2024 - 16:01

05 February 2024 - 16:01

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.