EU Parliamentarian Frowns on Treatment of European Investor in Liberia

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Monrovia – A member of the European Parliament, Ms. Tsvetelina Marinova Penkova, has written the European Union (EU) head of the EU Delegation in Liberia, Ms. Hélène Cavé, to directly intervene in an alleged “incorrect and probably unlawful treatment” of a European investor by the Liberian authorities and administration.

“The case concerns Prista Oil Holding, a respected investor and producer from Bulgaria which has a long-established reputation on the international market as a worldwide company with 14 subsidiaries operating in the markets of 71 countries on 5 continents,” the European Parliamentarian told her Office in Liberia. 

In an email to Ms. Cavé and Mr. Juan Antonio Frutos Goldaratz, who is probably another member at the EU Office in Liberia, Ms. Penkova, who is a Bulgarian EU Member of Parliament, stated, “We have been informed by the European League for Economic Cooperation that Prista Port Buchanan LLC (owned by Prista and US investors) won a legally valid concession procedure at the Port of Buchanan.”

According to Ms. Penkova, on September 6, 2019, the concession agreement was signed by the following officials of government, Managing Director of Liberia’s National Port Authority, the Chair of the National Investment Commission and by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning. She further stated that on September, 9th, 2 019, the concession was confirmed by the Minister of Justice; while on September 30, 2019, the Senate ratified the concession with its decision no. 41/2019.

“Subsequently, despite the legal procedure, the signed concession and its ratification by the concessionaire, Prista Port Buchanan LLC, the administration has not yet granted it the right to exercise its functions as a concessionaire and to carry out the investment project. Prista has legitimate concerns and evidence that officials from the Liberia administration are involved in an attempt to cancel the legally conducted procedure,” she added. 

The EU Parliamentarian also told Ms. Cavé that Liberia benefits from direct EU funding; adding: “The European Union has a valid EPA-Economic Partnership Agreement with ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries, of which Liberia is a part.”

“In view of the above, I believe that the European Parliament has every right to exercise control and to request information from the official Liberian authorities concerning: What is happening to the concession for Port Buchanan? Why has the designated concessionaire Prista been unable to exercise its rights arising from the concession, as confirmed and ratified by decision 41/2019 of the Senate of Liberia? What urgent action will the Liberian authorities undertake to remove the administrative obstacles to the exercising of the legal rights of an EU investor (Prista) which has already invested significant funds and know-how over a period of two years, in the aims of creating an overall business model for development of the concession? and Who will take responsibility for investor’s compensation in a future investment claim before international arbitration, given that Liberia relies on international donors, including the EU, to form its annual budget?”

Ms. Penkova threatened that in the event that it is established that the Liberian government is infringing on the rights of a European and international investor in Liberia, she will possibly refer the case to those EU parliamentary committees, which are involved in voting funds for Liberia within the next period after 2020, “as well as the necessary measure to harmonize Liberia’s legislation with international standards for the protection of foreign investors.”

“Subsequently, despite the legal procedure, the signed concession and its ratification by the concessionaire, Prista Port Buchanan LLC, the administration has not yet granted it the right to exercise its functions as a concessionaire and to carry out the investment project. Prista has legitimate concerns and evidence that officials from the Liberia administration are involved in an attempt to cancel the legally conducted procedure.”

Ms. Tsvetelina Marinova Penkova, Member of the European Union Parliament

Tony Blair’s Wife Writes Pres. Weah

Back in December 2019, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mrs. Cherie Blair, who represents the legal interests of Prista Port, wrote President George Manneh Weah seeking his intervention due to an “apparent stasis in the House of Representatives.” 

“As you will be aware, Prista has the concession to deliver a visionary transformation of the port and the surrounding area to create an exclusive economic zone of strategic national importance (“Port of Buchanan”). At least to me, it appears that Prista’s project is destined to play a vital role contributing to your legacy while driving Liberia’s economic growth and having a profound social impact.

“However, despite Prista’s legitimate expectations that everything was in order with the concession after over one year of negotiations, planning and agreements, the project has suddenly stalled due to apparent stasis in the House of Representatives. Prista is concerned by this inexplicable and seemingly arbitrary obstruction and invites your intervention to make sure matters progress in accordance with due process at the forthcoming extraordinary session of the House on 10 December 2019,” she stated in her letter.

In November 2019, this newspaper saw two separate letters addressed to two of Liberia’s international development partners, in which Prista Port had threatened to commence a litigation process against the Liberian Government.

In the almost identical, content letters addressed to both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative, Mr. Geoffrey Oestreicher and Ms. Kateri Clement, Resident Coordinator, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Prista Oil Holding EAD, Mr. Plamen Bobokov, said, “It is with dismay that it has come to the knowledge that the Chairman of the National Investment Commission is engaging in criminal activity of disclosing sensitive financial information of our business model in an effort to solicit a deal that has already been concluded.”

Mr. Bobokov further informed the IMF and MCC that Prista Oil Holding’s Board has approved an investment program of US$277 million to be invested in the Port of Buchanan. He added: “Additionally, we expect about US$200 million to be invested from third parties in the industrial zone and in the city of Buchanan. The new investments are expected to create jobs for more than 5000 people, where as we gave guarantee to the Government for 2000 working places by January 2020.”

About Prista

Prista Oil Holding is the mother company of Prista Port Buchanan LLC. It is a Liberian business entity, which was established by the European multinational company Prista Oil Holding EAD, in order to facilitate the recently concluded Concession Agreement with the Government of Liberia for the Port of Buchanan.

By virtue of the Concession Agreement dated 14th August 2019, approved by President Weah on September 12, 2019, and ratified by the Senate with Act No41 on September 30, 2019, Prista is expected to manage the Port of Buchanan for 25 years. They are set to invest a whopping US$277 million in the Liberian economy.

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