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Turkish court begins probe into Blue Stream pipeline venture

Turkish Energy Minister Zeki Cakan said yesterday documents...

Turkish Energy Minister Zeki Cakan said yesterday documents about the Blue Stream gas pipeline project from Russia to Turkey had been submitted to a court that has launched an investigation into the project.

"We are ready to cooperate with the court on whatever information they ask from us," Cakan told reporters on the sidelines of an energy conference in Istanbul. "There is nothing we cannot account for," he said.

An official from Botas, Turkey's state gas and oil pipeline company, told Reuters earlier paramilitary gendarme officials came to the company's headquarters in Ankara on Wednesday night and took documents about the Blue Stream gas pipeline project.

The probe into the project was launched earlier this month after an appeal by the main opposition Virtue Party (FP) to the Ankara state security court that the project had incurred losses to the state by making a $52 million downpayment to a consortium building the Turkish section of the pipeline.

Botas says the downpayment was made as part of the intergovernmental agreement signed between Russia and Turkey and later ratified by the parliaments of the two countries. "This is not the first time judiciary officials are demanding documents about the Blue Stream project," the Botas official said.

Gokhan Yardim, Botas's general manager who was also attending the Istanbul conference, said the prosecutor's office had previously asked twice for such information on the project. Cakan said the prosecutor's visit along with gendarme officials to Botas on Wednesday was not a "raid".

"Photocopying all the requested documents took many hours until late last night," he said. The Blue Stream project envisages a 1,200-kilometre pipeline from Izolbinoye in Russia to Turkey's capital Ankara. Turkey's partner in Blue Stream is Russia's Gazprom, which will eventually sell Turkey 16 billion cubic metres of gas a year under the deal.

Yury Komarov, Gazprom's board member in charge of the project, played down the investigation last week, telling a news conference in Ankara that the first gas deliveries would take place in the first quarter of 2002.

Komarov said deliveries would be later that the original plan of October, 2001, because of delays in Turkish legislation and the procurement of subsea pipes. The investigation into Blue Stream is part of a wider probe into alleged graft in the energy sector called "White Energy". An energy ministry official close to the project said all phases of the project had been documented through a law passed in parliament last year about the the project.

Cumhur Ersumer resigned as Turkey's energy minister last month over the "White Energy" investigation which has seen several senior energy ministry officials charged in connection with alleged graft involving energy tenders. Ersumer himself has not been charged with anything.

gulf-news.com