Albania to ask CEZ for talks over power distributor

TIRANA Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:32pm EDT

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TIRANA Oct 21 (Reuters) - Albania's five-week-old government will ask CEZ for talks to solve a row over the Czech power group's investment in the local loss-making power distributor, hoping to avoid an international court case.

CEZ took Albania to court after the Balkan state stripped its local unit, CEZ Shperndarje, of its licence and put it under the control of an administrator, after a long-running dispute about investment, imports and prices.

One of Europe's poorest countries, Albania wants to avoid the risk of having to pay steep damages that would hit its energy sector, state finances and damage its image with foreign investors.

Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri said on Monday direct talks with central Europe's biggest utility would be best because Albania's position had deteriorated since the previous government had neither nationalised CEZ nor entered into talks with the company.

"Dragging the conflict out over years in arbitration would withhold investments in the (energy) system and affect the whole electricity system which is in financial crisis," Gjiknuri told an Albanian television station.

Gjiknuri blamed both CEZ for not living up to its contractual obligations on investments and the Democratic Party government, which was beaten by his Socialist-led coalition in a landslide in June, for not exercising enough control on CEZ Shperndarje.

He said the government was setting up a task force that would be empowered to approach CEZ to seek negotiations.

CEZ's original investment was 102 million euros ($139.69 million) in 2009 for a 76 percent share in CEZ Shperndarje. The Albanian state holds the rest.

CEZ said the Albanian acquisition accounted only for 3.6 percent of its foreign investments and 0.7 of total investments.($1 = 0.7302 euros) (Reporting By Benet Koleka; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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