The Italian Ambassador to Albania, Fabricio Bucci said that there are important developments coming in the ‘Ndrangheta wiretap scandal.
In an interview with Euronews, he said that the as of yet unpublished wiretaps featured references to Albanian officials and entrepreneurs. He added that there is a cooperation between prosecutors of the two countries.
“There will be important developments soon. I cannot speak in detail for reasons you can imagine, but they are working, the two prosecutors are communicating,” said the Ambassador.
In January, transcripts of wiretaps from the Italian prosecution were published in the media. They included members of the Ndrangheta mafia discussing laundering money in construction and healthcare in Albania. There were several mentions of Albanian entrepreneurs and nods to certain officials including the Mayor of Tirana.
Following the wiretaps, dozens of members of the Ndrangheta group were arrested. In Albania, the wiretaps raised suspicions about the involvement of Albanian politicians and businessmen in corrupt construction tenders.
Leader of the opposition Lulzim Basha has called on SPAK to investigate the wiretaps. Organisation Nisma Thurrje then reported the Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj for alleged links to the mafia in the issuance of construction permits.
The tapes provide an insight into plans to launder money in Albania but so far, no concrete case has been identified.
A report published last year from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC) noted 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 labor 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.
The report also noted that in terms of contracts not open for public tender, up to 30% of the bid value is paid in bribes.