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While the EU talks about "freedom" from Russian gas for Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans thanks to increased imports from Azerbaijan, skeptics warn that it will have to pay the price - increased dependence on the country involved in the conflict and with the recent history of bribery and corruption in Europe, Exit News wrote. 

At the opening of the Greek-Bulgarian gas interconnector on Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would increase the supply of Azeri gas to Sofia and the region, changing the rules of the game, bringing freedom from Russia.

On Friday, after Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia proposed to supply more Azerbaijani gas to the EU with EU funds, the Azerbaijani president said he is confident that this will allow not only Azerbaijani gas to flow to Bulgaria, but also to Europe in large quantities and will support the energy security of the European continent as a whole.

However, skeptics warn of the risks associated with increased dependence on the country involved in the conflict and the recent history of bribery and corruption in Europe.

Azerbaijan currently transports 16 billion cubic meters of gas annually through TANAP to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Italy. However, it is planned to increase the capacity to 20 billion cubic meters per year. At the same time, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia also want to adapt their networks to deliver Azerbaijani gas, and the EU will pay the bills. But there is no doubt that this will significantly increase Baku's influence and power in the region.

MEP Marketa Gregorova has doubts about the gas import memorandum signed between the EU and Azerbaijan to increase imports. According to her, the EU should learn from its previous experience with Russia and not increase its dependence on dictatorships. According to her, the deal provides for long-term cooperation without time constraints and omits any control mechanisms, which she called a dangerous precedent.

Moreover, the politician said that the presence of Azerbaijani politicians and ambassadors in Brussels and Strasbourg has definitely increased over the past few weeks.

The European Commission had not responded to EURACTIV.cz's request for comment on the lack of control mechanisms in the deal with the South Caucasian country at the time of publication.

History of corruption

Much has been said about the human rights problems in Azerbaijan, but there have been few publications about the risk of corruption not only in that country, but also in the EU.

In 2017, the European Commission approved a deal between Malta and Azerbaijan that saw Maltese taxpayers lose tens of millions of euros annually, according to leaked portions of documents handed over to investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was then murdered.

In a deal worth more than 1 billion euros, Malta imports gas from Azerbaijan's state-owned SOCAR over the next ten years at twice the market price.

SOCAR buys gas from Shell for $113 million and then sells it to the Electrogas consortium (including SOCAR) for $153 million, making a profit of $40 million.

The Electrogas consortium then sells it to Enemalta, which supplies households and businesses in a small EU member state. The Electrogas consortium includes a company owned by Jorgen Fenek, who is currently on trial for ordering the murder of Caruana Galizia in 2017.

In addition, the Maltese police and the journalist's son believe that the motive for her murder was related to her investigation. 

The deal was made in 2014, when SOCAR had no experience in LNG production or trading, and was subsequently criticized by Malta's National Audit Office for irregularities, significant risks and lack of controls over fraud, bribery and corruption.

His report noted that the facts raised widespread suspicions of corruption and money laundering and that government officials played an important role in preparing certain parties to profit illegally from the deal.

On the news of the EU-Azerbaijan deal, the Daphne Caruana Galicia Foundation told The Shift News: "The EU's decision to impose sanctions against Russia and then sign an agreement with another state run by a kleptocrat is questionable, as it partially replaces energy dependence on one kleptocratic state with long-term dependence on another.

Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament of Malta, has also previously told Lovin Malta that the EU should stay away from authoritarian regimes when looking for gas partners.

Azerbaijan bribes EU politicians

Azerbaijan's history of corruption in gas deals with the EU should also be seen in the context of the 2017 Azerbaijan Laundry investigation.

OCCRP, in cooperation with European media, found that between 2012 and 2014, the government in Baku spent nearly $3 billion to clean up its reputation and gain support in Europe.

Politicians found to have been corrupted through the scheme included representatives from Germany, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, figures from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and, allegedly, UNESCO. Money was also distributed among sports stars, journalists, musicians and media moguls.

Back in 2017, the nongovernmental organization Bankwatch condemned the EU for its growing business ties to Baku over the scandal. In particular, they pointed to the Southern Gas Corridor, a joint project for which a record amount of EU money has been allocated, with SOCAR as a key shareholder.

The Southern Gas Corridor, consisting of Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea gas field Shah Deniz-2, transports gas to Europe, first through the South Caucasus Gas Pipeline, then through the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP) to Greece via the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. The system is put into full operation on December 31, 2020.

The project is seen as a key element in reducing Russian supplies to the region, which will be replaced by Azerbaijani pipeline gas and liquefied natural gas via terminals in Turkey and Greece.

Since October 1, Bulgaria and Greece have launched a new gas interconnection between the two countries with a capacity of 3 billion cubic meters, a third of which is Azerbaijani gas. Romania and Greece are also counting on increased imports through interconnections in the region. At the same time, Albania and Northern Macedonia are interested, which means they may soon become customers of Baku.

While many gas-supplying countries have human rights problems, few have such a long list of accusations, including billion-dollar bribery and illegal lobbying of EU politicians, as well as a corruption scandal in an EU member state involving the murder of a journalist.

The need to keep Europe warm this winter is great, but the cost of doing so, regarding the risk of corruption and the core values of the European Union, continues to grow.

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