What makes corruption a mighty enemy to fight are the criminal interlinkages between the administrative, judicial, police and political worlds. The only way to effectively counter it is to work together, in a well-coordinated and tireless action.
Ending impunity for corruption is key in building back trust in society and a sound business climate attracting investment. To get there, the ‘follow the money’ approach is crucial to crack down on corruption and dismantle organised crime.
While the above are well-known truths, these truths are not easily converted into practice. The reasons are manifold: lack of resources, tools and skills, lack of efficient cross-border cooperation agreements and mechanisms, lack of will due to internal corruption, lack of will due to political pressure.
In Albania, we are seeing the first concrete results of the deep reform of its justice system.
The establishment of the specialised investigative and judicial structures to fight organised crime and corruption is being finalised. And SPAK has started delivering on both counts, i.e., bringing corrupt officials to trial and confiscating assets in corruption and organised crime cases.
In the past, it was unheard of to put a General Prosecutor on trial. Last May, the First Instance SPAK Court sentenced to prison the former General Prosecutor. Other senior magistrates are also being arrested, prosecuted for serious crimes. And just last Friday the “Spirit” operation was a tremendous success with SPAK and the Albanian law enforcement being praised by senior Italian anti-mafia prosecutors. I am now eager to see this case being put on trial.
I am also looking forward – and I know each and every Special Prosecutor is even more eager – to seeing the first 27 NBI investigators become fully operational in August. I have heard them being praised as the best and the brightest. We will hopefully see another group of equally motivated and well-trained group of investigators being recruited and trained during the fall, leading to further improvements of the track-records.
We are all aware here that more is needed, especially on two counts: convictions and final confiscations of assets.
To succeed in improving the track-record of convictions and confiscations, financial investigations are crucial and need to be pursued in each and every case. Financial investigations are complex and specific expertise is needed. In this regard, the EU launched, last March, an innovative programme run by Spanish, Italian and Dutch authorities supporting the Albanian law enforcement agencies with 5.5 million EUR to improve financial investigations and effectively follow the money.
Having high-level public figures convicted has been a game changer in some of the South-Eastern European countries in the last years. Only with high-level officials behind bars, will politicians, judges, and prosecutors understand that they are not – or shall I say that are “no longer” – above the law.
Despite some progress made, we are not there yet in Albania.
Three areas needs to become the focus of the attention of the Albanian authorities in the coming future:
As mentioned, the country needs to step up its effort to establish a solid track record of investigations, prosecution, and adjudication of corruption cases, seizure and confiscation/recovery of criminal assets resulting from corruption-related offences.
SPO, NBI and SPAK Courts should address effectively high-level corruption. Bu they need adequate resources and skills, and effective cooperation between these new structures and other prosecutorial and judicial entities.
The country should also ensure that criminal proceedings are consistently and systematically initiated against judges and prosecutors accused of criminal conduct during the re-evaluation process.
I believe that now – with a functioning SPAK delivering its first results and with a General Prosecutor who puts the fight against corruption and money-laundering at the top of his agenda – Albania is in the right position to crack down on the poisonous corruption phenomenon.
Of course Albania is not alone in this fight. The EU and its Member States, as well as international partners, starting by the US, are close to you.
The EU has been supporting Albania spending nearly EUR 60 million since 2012 to
assist SPO and NBI,
improve the equipment of the prosecution and the Albanian State Police,
strengthen capacities of the Law Enforcement Agencies through PAMECA,
support to the vetting process through the financing of the International Monitoring Operation, and
support financial investigations.
Starting this very week, in the context of a regional programme, experts will monitor the first cases of trials of high-level corruption and organised crime in the SPAK Court, aiming at identifying the more systemic issues preventing the improvement of the track-record in the high level cases.
The challenges are many and some of them are harder to overcome than others. However the ultimate goal is worth all joint efforts. To create an environment in the country where the citizens feel safer and trust their institutions. And a business climate that will attract investments and consequently raise the economic standards and the quality of life of the ordinary citizens.
All the Albanian authorities and the Albanian citizens must know that they can count on the European Union to pursue this goal.
Thank you for your attention.