Possible Corruption, Doubts Hover over EU Ambassador Vlahutin

Daily newspaper Dita has published today a report related to the EU Ambassador’s acquisition of a villa in the luxury complex Rolling Hills outside Tirana. According to documents in the possession of Dita, Ambassador Romana Vlahutin’s official residency cost €1.6 million.

Dita reports that this price is several times higher than the market value of other, identical villas in the same complex. The EU allegedly spent €4,700 per square meter, whereas the prices advertised for villas in Rolling Hills range from €1,000 to €2,000 per square meter. This makes Ambassador Vlahutin’s residency one of the most expensive houses in Albania’s history. The newspaper also raises a series of questions about the absence of a public procurement procedure, the fact that the acquisition was made by an individual rather than by an institution, and the source of the money.

Personally negotiated

Sources of Exit with knowledge of the transaction confirm that the negotiations for the acquisition of the residency were initially in the hands of a well-known law firm based in Tirana, but that Ambassador Vlahutin decided to personally take over the negotiations, rejecting further services of the law office.

It is uncommon for an EU Ambassador or Embassy to buy property in a country it is stationed. The EU rents all of its office space and residencies outside the EU, except for seven, eight countries off the European continent. All the offices of the EU in Tirana are rented. The exception for Ambassador Vlahutin’s residence does not appear to make sense, assuming that it will no longer have an EU Ambassador once it joins the European Union.

Previous doubts about wealth declaration

Ambassador Vlahutin is not a EU career diplomat, but rather one of the political appointments granted to Croatia in the context of its EU membership. Previously, doubts have been raised about her wealth declarations in Croatia.

In 2015, the Croatian Parliamentary Commission for Conflicts of Interest conducted an administrative investigation of Vlahutin, who was suspected of hiding part of her wealth and falsifying the declaration of her wages and real estate property. The commission concluded that Vlahutin had violated the Croatian law on wealth declaration. However, since she was already for many years no longer paid by the Croatian public sector, the commission decided not to take any punitive action.

Role in national politics

Ambassador Vlahutin has been one of the main actors in the judicial reform process in Albania. She has consistently and openly supported the Rama government throughout the drafting and approval process of the reform. At the same time, she has remained completely silent about the other problems in the country, including drug cultivation and trafficking, organized crime, and corruption, even as her colleagues in other EU institutions were more vocal.

Oftentimes, Ambassador Vlahutin’s positions were at odds with the positions of high EU officials, especially in relation to the EU accession process of Albania. Last December, the EU decided not to open accession negotiations, expressing its concern about the lack of progress in Albania and requiring the fulfillment of five conditions before the resumption of the process. Ambassador Vlahutin had never expressed any of those concerns before they were made public by her employer, the European Commission. Inexplicably, she continued to deny the existence of these conditions in public.