There cannot be a real or effective fight against corruption or money laundering in Albania, until there is an effective judiciary, according to Gianluca Esposito, the Executive Director of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) at the Council of Europe (CoE).
In an exclusive interview with Exit, Esposito explained how “the reform of the judiciary needs to be completed soon. Yes, it is ongoing, but Albania needs a free, fair, and independent judiciary because laws are not enough by themselves.”
When asked about the lack of a High Court and Constitutional Court, Esposito was clear that it was important to safeguard the rule of law and that care must be taken to ensure that their establishment “goes in the right direction.”
When asked about criticisms that the government fails to allow for the impartial investigation and prosecution of those suspected of corruption and economic crime, including senior officials he said that “as long as there is impunity, you cannot expect to have a whole society effort to deal with corruption.”
Again, he reiterated that it is not enough to have a law against corruption and financial crime and to have functioning courts, you have to ensure that “media and society collectively participate in the repression of corruption.”
“If you end up accepting impunity, you end up with disenchantment from society,” he said.
Esposito said that GRECO has stressed to the government that there must be investigations, prosecutions and convictions, as well as actual seizures of assets, of those involved in wrongdoing. These, he said, are the measures needed to truly avoid impunity.
On the topic of electoral reform, he declined to comment on the controversy around the Chair of the Electoral Reform Committee being himself embroiled in election rigging allegations. Instead, he commented that GRECO has been advocating for “an independent body to oversee electoral administration,” this he said, is a point that they will be following up.
The Council of Europe’s first Ethics Officer noted how “corruption, money laundering, and crime remain a threat for Albania” and that while on paper there is a “high level of political commitment” and some measures have been introduced, they still need to be both completed and implemented.
“The government is going in the right direction but most importantly – and I am insisting on this – reforms are only any good if they are effectively and properly implemented,” he said.
“It is not enough to create a new institution or body to fight corruption or crime; they actually have to deliver on the tasks they are supposed to carry out,” he added.
Esposito referred to the fact that Albania will have a new Special Prosecution soon, and whilst acknowledging that this was good, he added that having a Special Prosecution is not enough because “they actually have to carry out their duties.”
Overall, Esposito said he feels that the Albanian government are taking cooperation with GRECO seriously and that they have a “good, ongoing dialogue.” Expressing optimism for the future, he said it was important to remember that full electoral, judicial, and legal reforms take time and we cannot expect results immediately. He said he is satisfied so far with the consistency from the Albanian government on reforming, but he stressed that they are not finished and the key is how the reforms will be implemented.
The Head of GRECO was in Tirana to take part in a conference entitled “Fighting Corruption and Economic Crime” which was organised at the Faculty of Law. Also in attendance were Artan Hoxha, the Dean of the Faculty; Lenka Vitkova, the Head of Rule of Law and Good Governance at the EU Delegation; Christina Vasak the French Ambassador to Albania; Jutta Gutzkow, Head of the CoE office in Tirana; and Deputy Minister of Justice Fjoralba Caka.
The panel discussed the progress made and ongoing challenges in the ongoing cooperation between GRECO and MONEYVAL, the CoE department that deals with money laundering and financial crimes. Other topics included anti-money laundering legislation, the asset declaration system, publishing of assets of public officials, and the consolidation of the rule of law.