Burdened by debt, Albania’s controversial oil tycoon, Rezart Taci, has sold most of its assets, which observers say were built up with the support of political ties.
The Albanian government last week said it had approved the sale of 70 per cent of Albania’s sole oil refinery, ARMO, to an Azeri company, Heaney Assets Corporation, registered in the fiscal paradise of the British Virgin Islands.
The Azeri company paid €35 million for Taci’s stake in AMRA Oil, which in turn controled 85 per cent of ARMO’s stock. The rest of the shares remain in the hands of the Albanian government.
Heaney Assets Corporation has also paid almost €15 million for minority stakes in several other companies controlled by the tycoon, including Europetrol, Taci Oil and Kuid.
“His debts had grown so large that even his political connections could not save him,” said Ard Kola, a business editor at the daily newspaper Shqip.
According to Kola, the oil tycoon created an image of making galloping strides in the business world but the whole operation was a bubble.
“Taci built an empire with inflated budgets and debts that were run up to pay off other debts,” he added.
Data from tax authorities show that Taci’s companies had a turnover of €350 million in 2012.
The new owners of ARMO have also agreed to take over the refinery’s debt towards Albania’s state oil producer Albpetrol, believed to be in the tens of millions of euro.
Apart from the debt to Albpetrol, Taci is believed to have had an unpaid loan of €75 million, from the Bank of Azerbaijan. The Azeri bank sued him for the money in August 2012, but withdrew the lawsuit after a few days.
Taci is known as one of the Tirana businessmen who belong to outgoing Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s inner circle.
He spent millions of euro to bring in football clubs like AC Milan and Real Madrid to play charity football games, with the proceeds going to a children’s foundation run by Berisha’s wife.
He also spent sizable sums to fly notables like Mikhail Gorbachev and Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to Tirana in private jets.
In 2009 he bought the Albanian oil refinery ARMO for €128 million.
In November 2009, he was accused of attacking Mero Baze, a local political analyst and publisher, but was cleared of charges a year later. Instead, two of his bodyguards were found guilty of assaulting the journalist and fined 300,000 lek (€2,140) each.
In 2012 he launched a bid to buy the state-owned oil company Albpetrol, but the bid fell through when Taci could not turn-up with the €850 million that he had offered.(Cortezay:Besart Likmeta-Balkaninsight)