Senators to Secretary Tillerson: Investigate Links of USAID and Soros in Albania

In a letter dated March 14, 2017, six US senators, including former presidential candidate Ted Cruz, have asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to investigate the relations between USAID and the Soros Foundation. The letter follows an inquiry of the State Department into the usage of US governmental funds by the US Embassy and USAID office in Tirana, especially in relation the role of the Soros Foundation and affiliated organizations.

In their letter, the senators express their concern about

credible reports that, over the past few years, the U.S. Mission [in Macedonia] has actively intervened in the party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society, often favoring left-leaning political groups over others.

Over the last years, USAID awarded “multiple” grants to the Soros Foundation or organizations affiliated with it, thus politicizing the role of the US Embassy in the country. “We should especially be way of promoting policies that remain controversial even in our own country and that have the potential to harm our relationship with the citizens of recipient countries,” the senators state.

Beside Macedonia, the six senators point to a similarly problematic situation in Albania:

This problem is not limited to Macedonia, but appears to follow a pattern of alarming activity in this volatile region. Respected leaders from Albania have made similar claims of US diplomats and Soros-backed organizations pushing for certain political outcomes in their country. Foundation Open Society – Albania (FOSA) and its experts, with funding from USAID, have created the controversial Strategy Document for Albanian Judicial reform. Some leader believe that these “reforms” are ultimately aimed to give the Prime Minister and left-of-center government full control over judiciary power.

The destabilizing effects of such actions in a NATO country are clean and the threat for further escalation eminent as Albania anticipates parliamentary elections later this year. This is especially concerning in light of international reports of increasing government corruption in Albania and the renewed power of drug trafficking and organized criminal groups in the country.

The senators call upon Secretary Tillerson to investigate the precise relations between US Embassies, USAID, and the Soros Foundation in Macedonia and Albania, as well as Latin America and Africa.

The letter arrives at a moment that the US Embassy in Tirana has become increasingly pro-government and fully invested in the transitory assessment of magistrates, also known as vetting. For example, US Ambassador Lu is member of the controversial Management Board of the International Monitoring Operation, which has been criticized by both the Minister of Justice and the opposition as unconstitutional.

Moreover, in an interview with Voice of America, Ambassador Lu today supported the new candidate Minister of Interior Affairs Fatmir Xhafaj, stating the the US Embassy “has worked closely with Mr. Xhafaj as chair of the parliamentary committee of legal affairs and for the judicial reform.” He forgot to mention, however, the recent unconstitutional moves of Xhafaj, currently leaving the vetting in no-man’s land, suspended between a boycotted Parliament and an unwilling National Ombudsman. Ambassador Lu even stated that “If Mr. Xhafaj works aggressively against the drug traffickers and organized crime, he will have our full support,” again conveniently forgetting that Xhafaj’s brother is involved in international drug trafficking and that Xhafaj never distanced himself from him, not even when he was Minister of Justice.

His open support for Xhafaj, even before he has been officially decreed by President Bujar Nishani, is precisely the type of “free-wheeling” behavior the US senators appear to express their concern about.

As regards the relations between USAID and the Soros Foundation in Albania, they will most probably find that USAID has strong links with Soros Foundation projects operating in Albania. Rama’s first foreign trip as Prime Minister in 2013 was to attend George Soros’s wedding. Moreover, a considerable amount of politicians and public officials currently in the PS have been either part of the Soros Foundation Albania, or profited from its funding.

To give two recent examples, USAID has sponsored the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) with a grant of $6 million concerning the promotion of the judicial reform program. The EWMI, a Soros-backed organization, is the sole recipient of the entire grant. Director of EWMI’s Civil Society Programs is Delina Fico, former wife of Prime Minister Edi Rama and wife of former Minister of State Bledi Çuçi. Fico, who has worked for the Soros Foundation in Albania since the 1990s, recently received a $9 million USAID grant in Macedonia through a collaboration between the EWMI and the local Soros Foundation.

The letter sent by the six US senators comes at a time that the US State Department is already reviewing its Balkan policy, and the way in which its funding tools have been employed over the last four years to favor specific local political movements. It seems a certain fact that this will lead to policy changes which will reshape the relation of the US Embassy with the current and next Albanian governments.