By Besar Likmeta
The Albanian government has raised the compensation for legal advice offered by Omnia Strategy in the dispute with US company by 150,000 euros, bringing the payment to a total of 645,000 euros.
No reason was given for the increased payment in the government decision, which was taken on December 28 but published in the official gazette on Tuesday.
The law firm of the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who currently works as an advisor to Albanian premier Edi Rama, was originally hired by the Albanian government in early 2015 to represent Tirana in a trade dispute with a consortium made up of US company Rapiscan Systems and local firm S2 Albania.
Rapiscan and S2 Albania had won a concessionary contract from the former centre-right government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha for a security system that scanned containers at Albania’s border posts in 2013.
The deal was approved by parliament only one month before the June 2013 parliamentary elections, which Berisha lost in a landslide to Rama’s Socialists.
Based on business complaints over Rapsican’s tariffs, the new government tried to renegotiate the contract.
But in the absence of an agreement, the US company sued for illegal breach of contract to the tune of $350 million in the arbitrage court in Paris in September 2014.
In the beginning, the government seemed determined to fight Rapsican in court and hired Omnia Strategy in early 2015 for 495,000 euros in order to represent it in the looming legal battle.
However, it quickly changed its mind and based on Cherie Blair’s advice, decided to settle the case amicably in April 2015.
Treasury transactions published by the ministry of finance show that Omnia Strategy was paid 495,000 euros on November 10 based on two invoices the law firm issued in early February 2015, which suggest that Cherie Blair’s work for Albania’s government was brief.
Cherie Blair’s work in Tirana comes to the heels of a similar contract in Kazakhstan, where her husband also worked as an advisor to the country’s autocratic ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev.
According the London-based Sunday Telegraph, Omnia Strategy, was paid almost £400,000 for six months’ work in Kazakhstan for reviewing its “bilateral investment treaties”, with Cherie Blair billing £975 an hour.