Electric power theft costs Balkan companies millions of euros.
By Mladen Dragojlovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 09/03/13
Police arrested 20 employees of the Elektrokrajina power company for allegedly helping customers steal electricity. [Mladen Dragojlovic/SETimes]
Republika Srpska (RS) police arrested 20 employees of electric power supplier Elektrokrajina in Banja Luka, alleging that they enabled customers to decrease their electricity bills.
The arrests are part of ongoing efforts in RS and across the Balkans to curtail utility theft, which costs companies millions of euros per year.
Police say the Elektrokrajina employees collaborated with owners of restaurants and coffee shops to install devices that caused electric meters to display rates of consumption up to 70 percent less than what those customers actually used. In exchange, the Elektrokrajina employees allegedly received monthly bribes or gifts.
RS Police Director Gojko Vasic told reporters that with tougher legislation pending, February's arrests were just the beginning of the battle against crime in the utility sector.
"We know that millions of euros are stolen in this way. New laws shall treat electricity theft as serious crime, and that will allow confiscation of properties in order to charge the debt," Vasic said.
Elektrokrajina manager Seka Kuzmanovic told SETimes that the company co-operated with police.
"We noticed that something was wrong with bills of big customers. In an internal investigation, our experts found out that some electricians made agreements with these customers," Kuzmanovic said.
She added that the amount of energy that any single customer steals may not be dramatic, but in the Banja Luka area, such losses total several million euros.
"Just imagine to add over 50 small amounts on a monthly level, then multiply that number with 12 months and then with at least 10 years. You will see that it is more than a big crime," Kuzmanovic said.
Elektroprivreda RS told SETimes the only way to battle this crime is frequent control of customers, which involves the company sending electricians to homes and businesses to check electric meters.
"Just during last year 112,615 control [checks] were made, and 1,072 thefts were discovered," said Branislava Milekic, the company's general manager, adding that losses are in the millions of euros.
She added that the situation is the worst in Banja Luka, where 763 thefts were discovered in the past year. There were about 200 cases in Bijeljina and 38 in Doboj.
The situation is better in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the main electricity supplier is Elektroprivreda BiH. Company spokesperson Midheta Kurspahic told SETimes that their loss on unauthorised consumption is the lowest level in region.
"Total loss in distribution last year was about 9 percent. We have continued control of consumers and everybody who uses energy in unauthorised ways are sanctioned according to law," said Kurspahic.
Most countries in the region have problems with electric power theft.
Montenegro company Elektroprivreda Crne Gore fired several electricians because they reconnected consumers that had been disconnected due to theft. In the Podgorica area last year 1,100 cases of theft were reported to the courts.
"We are making controls of customers on a regular basis in an attempt to decrease these thefts. In case that control discovers these cases, unauthorized consumers will be disconnected from the net and reported to police and to the court," Crne Gore's public relations director Rajko Sebek told SETimes.