Only one week ago we were in Durres, witnessing the opening of the second project the EU is supporting in a venue confiscated from an organised crime organisation.
A dusty underground bar has now be turned into the KINFOLK COFFEE LIBRARY, a multicultural centre that targets youth at risk of juvenile delinquency, by engaging them in social and cultural activities.
The first initiative the EU supported in confiscated premises, "KE BUONO", already dates back from January 2018. Also dark and dusty basement reconverted into a pastry shop that is used for social activities serving the community.
In two weeks, we will open a third project in Saranda that will offer employment opportunities to women and girls who were victims of human trafficking, forced prostitution, sexual abuse and domestic violence.
These initiatives are innovative not only for Albania. They set the right example for the region. Our message is: "What has been stolen from society must be given back to society".
Even if these are very positive examples, the reality remains that the assets recovered from organised crime are very small compared to the revenues generated by criminal groups.
The EU recognizes the identification, freezing and confiscation of criminal assets as one of the most effective means to counter organized crime. Setting-up dedicated Asset Recovery Offices has proven to be an effective tool to tackle this challenge. This is why it became an obligation for all EU Member States – under the EU law – to establish such Offices. And we have encouraged Albania – in our last country reports – to establish its own Asset Recovery Office.
Albania has in the recent years undertaken considerable efforts to effectively combat serious crime. But all institutions need to align their efforts in conducting financial investigations in a concerted matter, based on clear procedures.
The EU is supporting Albania with this task. The Action against Economic Crime in Albania (funded jointly by the EU and the Council of Europe) is strengthening asset recovery and asset management practices. Contributions have also been made by our regional project “Countering serious crime in the Western Balkans” and the upcoming programme on developing the capacities for financial investigation.
Beyond financial and technical support, let me stress the importance of international cooperation. In that respect, Albania is in a unique position by having in place Cooperation Agreements with many EU Member States and partners as well as both Europol and Eurojust.
Europol has deployed earlier this year a Liaison Officer in Tirana to facilitate the cooperation further. These arrangements should now be used to their full potential by the Albanian law enforcement authorities also to exchange data with their EU counterparts in view of tracking criminal assets throughout Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The concept of social re-use of confiscated assets is rather new even within the European Union but has clearly shown its efficiency and contribution to society. It is a perfect example of what has become known as 'the whole-of-society approach'.
In order to fight this deeply rooted and widely spread societal phenomenon, dedicated efforts must come not only from the Government and law enforcement authorities, but also from citizens. Civil society, private sector and media are part of a long-term solution to fight organized crime.
I am personally very happy to see that Libera has been invited today to this discussion. Their success is the proof that the reuse of confiscated assets in collaboration with civil society has reaffirmed the value of legality and shown that citizen action against organized crime is working.
The Albanian Civil Society organisations need to be at the heart of any future discussions on the use and management of sequestered and confiscated assets in this country. I would like to congratulate especially Partners Albania and its local organizations for their courage to stand up against criminal networks in often difficult circumstances.
It was a difficult road and it took a long time, but our projects in Durres, Fier and Saranda have proven that social entrepreneurship within confiscated assets are possible in Albania. The way forward has been set. Let's work together so that those become normal practice rather than exceptions.