Exit Explains: Mayor Erion Veliaj’s Mistruths About Construction, Towerblocks and Money Laundering

Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj gave false information to journalist Eni Vasili last night on the Open show.

When talking about the number of high-rise towers in Tirana, he said:

“So far, there are three towers where are located the most prestigious hotels.”

Veliaj was most likely referring to the Plaza Hotel and the Tirana International but he neglected to mention the large number of towers currently under construction in the area. There are currently four high-rise buildings under construction around the perimeter of Skanderbeg Square alone.

  • The Skanderbeg Tower next to the Tirana Hotel will be 85 meters high with 25 floors above ground and five below. The upper floors will be shaped like a human head. A number of historial two-storey buildings next to the Tirana Hotel were demolished to make way for its construction.
  • The 35-storey tower behind Hotel Tirana was launched as an extension of the premises of Hotel Tirana. According to the project, the tower will have 5 floors of underground parking and 30 floors above ground. A significant part of the building will be the shopping center.
  • The Eyes of Tirana is a 26-storey tower on the west side of the square and sits at the beginning of Rruga Kavaje and Rruga Durresit. The architects Henning Larsen Architects won a competition to design it in 2003, orrganised by Edi Rama who was Mayor at the time.
  • Book Building is a 25-storey just behind the Tirana Clock and the Municipality building.  It will consist of several different structures and it appears that it will partially if not almost totally obscure the view of the clock- one of Tirana’s landmarks.

High-rise towers being built outside the perimeter of Skanderbeg Square:

  • Exhibition Tower is a 24-storey tower in the former exhibition space next to the Lana River.
  • Downtown Tirana is a 40-storey tower next to the Ambassador 3 tower near the National Stadium.
  • West Residence is a multi-storey complex behind the Presidents Office.
  • Cube Block is a multifunctional complex in Bllok.
  • MET Building Tirana will sit between the Catholic Cathederal and the former Dajti Hotel.
  • Garden Building is a 24-storey tower on Rruga Kavaja on the site of the former Museum of Natural Sciences.
  • Six Towers in the place of the National Theatre.
  • The 24-storey tower that forms a part of the National Stadium which is now completed.

Mayor Veliaj also strenuously denied that construction in Tirana and Albania was used for the means of money laundering.

Earlier this year, the Global Initiative Report found not only that half of public contract money went to public officials in bribes, but that real-estate and the funding of new residential or commercial constructions was a popular way to launder money in Albania.

“It begins with the financing of new residential or commercial construction, continues with financing the construction contracts and undercounting the value of labour in construction, and again with the sale of the finished buildings.”

The report found that out of 141 companies given building permits for high-rises between 2017 and 2019, 59% did not have the financial capacities to complete them. The balance sheets of the companies in question revealed that they had minimal revenue and no assets or loans that could be used to fund the projects.

GITOC estimated that 60% of the value of the project derived from illicit money. The report also claims that even when you factor in the value of mortgages, there is a discrepancy of some EUR 600mllion in 2019 alone. Findings from the report and an unnamed Albanian money laundering expert stated that up to EUR 1.6 billion of “dirty money” could have been laundered through the Albanian real-estate sector between 2016 and 2019.

Also noted was the way that criminals and those looking to launder money establish links with politicians and officials to secure their permits. Bribery, influence-peddling, brokering, blackmail, and abuse of power are all used to acquire permits and other benefits.  

He called the Global Initiative report, a report of the Democratic Party but did not provide any evidence for his claim.

In fact it was funded by the Norweigan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in conjunction ith the German GIZ project.