As prices of basic essentials like cooking oil soared suspiciously high this week, authorities vow to prosecute supermarket warehouses that hoard goods in order to push up prices and spark panic buying.

Kosovo Probes ‘Artificial’ Hikes in Basic Goods’ Prices

A Kosovo supermarket shelf with litre bottles of cooking oil costing 3.49 euros and a limit of 4 purchases at a time, March 10, 2022. Photo: BIRN

Authorities closed two supermarket warehouses in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje and Gracanica on Thursday on suspicion of manipulating the prices of basic goods and causing panic buying.

“The market inspectorate in collaboration with the Directorate for Investigation of Economic Crimes of the Police temporarily closed two warehouses of economic operators,” the Ministry of Trade announced on Facebook.

BIRN found out that 100,000 bottles of cooking oil were stored in one of the closed warehouses and another 26,000 bottles in the other.

Kosovo shoppers flocked to supermarkets on Thursday to buy oil after prices rose by more than a euro in one day, reaching an all-time high of 3.49 euros per bottle.

One day earlier, a litre of cooking oil cost around 2.25 euros. According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, cooking oil cost around 1.69 euros in February. Some supermarkets also limited purchases to four bottles at a time.

The owner of the only cooking oil production company in Kosovo, based in Gjilan/Gnilanje, Berat Mustafa, told Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Minister of Trade Rozeta Hajdari on Thursday that their oil is sold at 1.95 euros per litre before VAT, which, after adding VAT, becomes 2.10 euros.

“The [current high] market price for us as a company is worrying and we ask them to correct the prices. It has caused panic among citizens,” Mustafa said.

The Office of Chief State Prosecutor on Thursday said it will take criminal action against economic operators that “abuse their monopolistic or dominant position in the market”, and “otherwise unjustly regulate the purchase or sale prices of goods”.

Under the Kosovo criminal code, the penalties for this offence are up to one year in prison.

Several supermarkets were fined on Thursday for manipulating prices. A mall in Skenderaj/Srbica was fined 1,000 euros and over 3,000 litres of cooking oil worth over 1,200 euros was removed from a mall in Mitrovica for not possessing proper documentation of product origin.

Kurti said the government would increase “control and oversight”. He said: “3.49 euros for a bottle of oil is an artificial increase. We will not allow extortion.”

However, cubing price manipulation in Kosovo is difficult right now as the Market Competition Committee, which has investigation competencies, is not yet functioning. The government proposed candidates for its leadership only on Thursday.

Selatin Kacaniku, head of the NGO Consumer Protection, told BIRN the domestic market was being misused. “People are not protected when it comes to these price increases because the government does not know how to deal with them,” Kacaniku said.

Kacaniku noted that the goods whose prices were increasing were already on the market, and had not been imported recently, so their price could have not been affected by recent global events.

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