The death of the head of the privatisation agency, Dino Asanaj, raised questions about the agency's effectiveness.
By Linda Karadaku and Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 28/06/12
Privatisation Agency head Dino Asanaj's death has sparked concerns about the selling process. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]
The unusual death of Dino Asanaj, the head of Kosovo's Privatisation Agency, who purportedly stabbed himself while under the cloud of suspicion from a corruption investigation, raises new questions about the effectiveness of a state office that is designed to create jobs through private development.
The privatisation agency signs contracts with investors to take over state-owned businesses and socially-owned businesses – companies that are managed by their workers. The contracts require many, but not all, investors to contribute a minimum sum into the business and sets quotas for the number of people to be employed. If the investors fail to meet the contract, the privatisation office can retake the business.
Asanaj, a former adviser to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, became chairman of the board for the agency in 2008. Since then, the organisation has helped break up and convert 300 state-owned businesses into more than 900 private enterprises. About 650 of those contracts include provisions that would allow the state to reclaim the businesses if the contract is not honoured.
The process has raised about 600m euros for Kosovo, according to Ylli Kaloshi, spokesman for the privatisation agency, with 55m euros going to workers of those companies.
The agency considers the privatisation process a success, but Professor Musa Limani, the dean of the Economic Faculty in the University for Business and Technology in Pristina, said it has contributed to the deterioration of Kosovo's economy.
"The socially-owned enterprises that made 90% of Kosovo industry and economy were sold very cheaply, and we also lost markets," Limani told SETimes. "Selling socially-owned enterprises in Kosovo [has raised] only 600m euros … the tobacco factory in Nis, Serbia, was sold for over 500m euros."
Limani said that the privatisation process has been riddled with corruption and abuses, and the lack of a law on privatisation is a critical shortcoming. "Privatisation in Kosovo was done without a judicial infrastructure and that is showing problems now with the property and ownership."
Allegations of corruption in privatisation have been an all-too-common theme throughout the region. Balkan Insight reported in November last year that Serbia had cancelled almost 30% of all privatisation deals because of corruption or mismanagement. In Montenegro, the parliament approved a call this year to probe allegations of corruption regarding the privatisation of its state-owned telecommunications provider.
When he died, Asanaj was under investigation for allegedly seeking a bribe of 4m euros from an owner of a Kosovo hotel that had been privatised. Under Kosovo laws, companies can be "blocked" by the state after they are sold if the owners default on the terms of their contract with the government. Remzi Ejupi, a 20% shareholder in the Grand Hotel in Pristina, said that Asanaj demanded the bribe to unblock the hotel.
Asanaj denied the claim and challenged witnesses to provide evidence of bribery to prosecutors, but died on June 14th with 11 knife wounds to the neck and chest, before the investigation was complete. An autopsy ruled the death a suicide, saying that many of the wounds were superficial and the privatisation chief inflicted two fatal wounds to his chest himself, but many have scoffed at the findings.
Nexhmedin Ejupi, general manager of Kosovatex, which was privatised in 2011, said the corruption claim against Asanaj and the circumstances of his death will cast a cloud over the process.
"Despite the fact that we don't have accurate information on the circumstances of his death, from my personal experience I can say that this case will increase doubts on the privatisation process," he said.