From: Alice Taylor
Transparency International: State Capture in Albania and Region Enriches Politicians at Severe Cost to Citizens

State capture in Albania and the region is “enriching politicians and their networks at the severe cost of ordinary citizens”, according to the Transparency International ‘Examining State Capture: Undue Influence on Law-Making and the Judiciary in the Western Balkans and Turkey” report.

The report noted that reforms are not sufficiently addressing the presence of state capture and its underpinnings and motivations. This is leading to an erosion of public trust in government institutions as they are increasingly being used to serve private interests. 

TI was clear that despite establishing the rule of law is the main condition for joining the European Union, it remains a “key challenge” in the aspiring countries, including Albania. One of the challenges hindering the proper implementation of the rule of law is the tribalism and “clan membership” that impacts Albanian politics. This also results in cronyism and nepotism that finds their way into the public administration.

The report gives an example of political clientelism in the case of the former Durres Mayor, Vangjush Dako who was responsible for the Socialist Party election campaign in Durres during the 2017 general elections. It states that he cooperated with the Avdulaj criminal gang in vote-buying treatment within local institutions. These activities formed a part of the Electiongate scandal that involved senior PS officials such as Damian Gjukniri and even Prime Minister Edi Rama. So far, no senior officials have been arrested, much less prosecuted.

It also mentioned the case of the ex-Interior Minister Samir Tahiri who along with the Director of Vlore police station was accused of collaborating with a drug trafficking gang. It was claimed that Tahiri provided information to the gang and “removed obstacles to the trafficking of narcotics” during his time in office (2013-2017). Evidence included communications referring to valuable gifts and a 30% cut of the profits for Tahiri and his family, in exchange for protection from the law.

Despite this, the Court found him not guilty of drug trafficking and being part of a criminal group, and guilty of “abuse of office”.

Another big issue raised in the TI report is the issue of tailor-made laws that are created to favor private companies and individuals but rubber-stamped by the state. Albania was first in the region in terms of these laws.

“Tailor-made laws seal and legitimize the privatization of public institutions and resources by making it legal. Such laws not only decriminalize the capture but, once legalized, make it harder to fight capture because the effort will be perceived as disobeying the law.”

One example given was that of the 2015 gambling law which appeared to benefit five gambling companies that held 80% of the market share. TI writes that it’s possible the law not only increased their profits but “might also have facilitated money laundering.”

It notes that the US State Department 2018 report found that gambling is one of the most popular methods of hiding illicit funds in Albania. Therefore, those five companies might have links to organized crime networks and politicians who finance their campaigns with such money.

Lastly, it highlighted the case of the unsolicited proposal to the Albanian government for the Milot-Balldren Highway. The company A.N.K which was founded by a former PS deputy and then sold to his politically linked brother was granted the concession with an 8.5% bonus. The value of the project was EUR 256 million, more than twice the price the government had estimated the cost. The state then gave another EUR 44 million to the project.

But the issue of state capture prevails even in cases where corruption makes it to court. TI reports that obstacles associated with the prosecutor are common in the cases it evaluated. They noted the “poor performance of the prosecutor” in the case of Damian Gjiknuri who was at the time, the Minister for Energy and Infrastructure. He was accused of responsibility for EUR 479 of damages incurred by the state for “actions or inactions in negotiations” to settle a dispute with a Czech electrical distribution company.

The General Prosecutor’s Office closed the case in 2016 despite not investigating beyond any of the publicly known facts or looking into the conduct of the negotiation and Gjiknuri who was the chief negotiator.