From: Alice Taylor
New Report: Politicians Exploiting Albania Granted Impunity by Corrupt Judiciary

Politicians in central and local government and the private sector are continuing the exploit the country’s resources and a “corrupt judiciary ensures impunity for these activities and furthers corrupt profit-making schemes.”

This is according to the Deconstructing State Capture in Albania report, published by Transparency International and the Institute for Democracy and Media.

The cases examined in the report shows “a strong nexus between public officials, the private sector, and the judiciary.” This, they say, has been growing progressively through the exploitation of public assets and the provision of public goods. It suggests that everything in the country can be bought, even parliamentary laws, and counter to the public interest.

In terms of judicial reform that started in 2016, its implementation has created further legal uncertainties due to its slow process and the replacement of judges. This has slowed progress in a number of high-profile cases impacting energy, defense, and transport. The report also observed that the government is enjoying undue influence over the judiciary and the “professionalism and integrity of judges remains elusive.”

The sheer number of cases waiting to be heard in the court system is also a big issue. With more than 30,000 in the queue, important cases such as the Gerdec cases have not yet been concluded. This was a case where corruption in the Ministry of Defence caused an explosion of an ammunition-dismantling site near Gerdec killed 26 and left 4000 homeless. 

It also mentions the incinerator scandal that dominated the news last year. The Albanian government awarded three contracts for incinerators in Elbasan, Fier, and Tirana via PPPs. The total value of the projects was EUR 179 million. The companies that won the contracts were sole bidders and tendering started following unsolicited bids from them.

Additionally, key individuals in the companies are closely associated with each other. This, TI said, suggests a grand corruption scheme whereby the same individuals benefitted from the contracts.

They noted:

“It is alleged that Mirel Mertiri and Klodian Zoto, two businessmen close to the former minister of finance and economy, Arben Ahmetaj of the Socialist Party – and with connections to the Democratic Party – have conspired with Albanian government officials to award waste incinerator contracts to companies that are run by their associates.”

The report explains further how tailor-made laws facilitate grand corruption schemes by “essentially legislating for the theft of natural resources” and fail to adhere to principles of transparency, integrity, rule of law, and parliamentary oversight. Most of these laws come from the government themselves and fail to provide rationale.

They analyzed a total of nine laws to show how the government proposes and the assembly accepts these custom-made laws. These laws included ones on the National Theatre, Law on Audiovisual Media, Law on Games of Chance, National Lottery, the concession of the Milot-Balldre road, the Law on VAT Threshold, the Law on Concession of the Vlora Airport, and the Law for the Establishment of the Company Air Albania.

“A number of very dubious legislative proposals of the government have appeared as a complete surprise and have been announced only at a very late stage of the process, specifically during the approval of the draft law by the government or during its submission to the Assembly.

This was the case with the Law on Vlora Airport and the related plans for the establishment of Air Albania Company, the Special Law on the National Theater, and other legal acts that have encouraged the public to express dissatisfaction in the form of protests or petitions “, the report found.

In the case of the law on the concession of Vlora Airport, the report found that it was drafted and approved in 14 working days. Within which:

“The government (1) set up a working group to draft the law; (2) the draft law has been sent to other ministries and institutions interested in the public; (3) the proposing ministries have received and reflected on this feedback; (4) the government approved the draft law at the meeting and submitted it to the Assembly for consideration; (5) The Assembly sent to the relevant standing committees; (6) the standing committees held meetings and approved the draft law; and finally (7) the Assembly adopted the law in the plenary session ”.

Transparency International made a number of recommendations for Albanian stakeholders, and the donor community. They are as follows:

  • Policy initiatives must be based on transparency and public consultation;
  • The current regulatory framework on the prevention of conflict of interest should be improved and strengthened by including provisions that ensure the integrity of public officials in regulatory and oversight institutions;
  • The capacities of the Albanian Parliament and the integrity of political representation, which are instrumental in ensuring effective parliamentary oversight of government policies, must be improved;
  • Court jurisdiction must be clarified to avoid loopholes for political interference and corruption of the judiciary;
  • Financial and human resources for the School of Magistrates must increase;
  • Campaign finance reform is an absolute necessity. This should include, among other things, clear provisions that regulate the financing of political parties to prevent money laundering and to identify political party donors.

The report also found that over the last ten years there has been a strengthening of cooperation between politics, business and organized crime which has reached its peak in the last couple of years. Government contracts for certain politically-affiliated businesses have led to mismanagement of public assets, loss of life, and increased financial debts that burden the Albanian public.

Furthermore, cooperation between political parties, public officials, and organized crime groups to buy votes in elections has severely damaged the integrity of the electoral process.

It also found that the Council of Ministers submits between 80-85% of all laws over the last 30 years, the remainder of which are submitted by MPs. Members of the public haven’t submitted any laws, despite there being a legal framework for them to do so.

In December 2020, TI published a report on Albania that found state capture is “enriching politicians and their networks at the severe cost of ordinary citizens.”

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.

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”.