In order to fulfill the EU pre-accession criteria, the Government in Tirana adopts the regulation in order to reform police sector but there are no results on the ground.

By: Elvis Nabolli (Journalist)

The Vetting in the State Police is to separate clearly and once and for all the innocent from the guilty, declared Prime Minister Edi Rama, during the meeting with police officers in October 2017.

According to Mr. Rama:

“No one will be spared! No police officer who has worked all his life in the police and if he has assets which cannot justify will be spared! There is no escape!”

But the situation, in reality, doesn’t seem like this.

For years Albania has been the largest exporter of cannabis to the EU, notably Italy, according to Europol reports.

The trade would make up one-third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) or more.

In its latest progress report, Brussels said:

Despite positive steps, such as the newly adopted law on whistleblower protection and the destruction of cannabis plantations, the number of final convictions remains low.”

Small farmers are regularly prosecuted, but never the drug lords.

For a quarter of a century, cannabis has ruined Albanian lives, corrupted local officials and poisoned national politics, all the drug lords became rich.

Corruption remains endemic in Albania and is one of the leading problems that hinder the country’s economic development, progress, and accomplishment of government’s objectives, including the foremost goal – membership to the EU.

Albanian police have recently been the main target of criticism as they have been accused of being tied to organized criminal groups and drug traffickers.

Criminal organizations in Albania have had a strong relationship with corrupt segments inside the police, the justice system and within politics.

It is precisely this “connection” that has given them the guarantees to develop, sophisticate, invest in the business and then in politics.

As one of the prosecutors from the Office for serious crime underlined once:

“Of course, this is a phenomenon that is worth discussing even theoretically, but even practically there have been cases when we have found or identified certain police officers who either were an integral part of them or served to supply information to them or through omission, tolerating and not obstructing them in their activity…”

The best-known form of collaboration between criminal organizations and state bodies is corruption, especially in the justice system.

This is not a local phenomenon in Albania, but one that is spread in all those districts where organized crime is problematic.

Case without ending

On 17 October 2017, the Albanian Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes had launched an investigation into former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri after a group of Albanians and Italians were arrested on suspicions of having trafficked about 3.5 tons of marijuana over the last four years.

Among them were two of Tahiri’s cousins, Moisi and Florian Habilaj. Authorities believe Tahiri helped the drug traffickers smuggling marijuana into Italy while he was a minister.

Tahiri denied any involvement in his cousins’ business and said that they used his name to cover their tracks and mislead investigators.

Three former police officials are already facing arrest warrants as part of the investigation.

Prosecutors suspect the officials in question allowed the Habilaj brothers to grow cannabis and conduct their illegal trafficking business in the Vlora area.

Police were unable to arrest their former colleagues, according to the Ministry of Interior, which issued a statement last week, saying they were not at home.

The prosecutor’s office believes that those men are not in the country anymore.

Fighting organized crime and especially drug trafficking is a key challenge for Albania.

The country has been a NATO member since 2009 and was granted European Union candidate status in 2014. It hopes to launch membership negotiations this year.

“Police vetting is crucial”, Italian National Anti-Mafia and Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho, said during a meeting in Albania with authorities of Ministry of Interior.

“However, purging police ranks from employees with links to criminal gangs is crucial. You need to set up a credible structure and select the honest people. During my career, I have hit criminal gangs with links to police. For years these structures have not functioned at their best, which was confirmed by Minister of Interior himself”, Italy’s National Prosecutor said.

On 26 February 2018, a draft law was approved by parliament for the vetting of Albania’s 13,000 police officers.

Sources from Albanian Ministry of Interior said that authorities want to look at the officers’ professional and personal backgrounds in order “to fire some individuals … elements involved in crime, corruption or not being professional.”

The same vetting process is also being done for Albania’s judges and prosecutors.

Minister Fatmir Xhafaj said that a bill on State Police vetting process is designed to check the moral integrity, professional and personal background and fire to fire all individuals involved in corruption affairs, crime, or being professionally incompetent in performing duties they are tasked with.

“An analysis of the existing situation was a necessity in order to figure out problems, phenomena and develop solutions to address these issues. The process was based on the State Police and institutions’ internal analyzes over the years. The process also takes into account the State Department’s support and progress reports by the European Union, the reports and documents from the international missions and programs assisting these institutions, mostly ICITAP and PAMECA, Annual Prosecution General Analysis etc, ” Xhafaj explained.

Presenting the draft law on Vetting of State Police, Republican Guard and Police Internal Affairs Service to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, the Interior Minister said the bill is designed to strongly support and promote police officers, who meet the legal, moral and professional criteria to serve at key security and public order structures.

Additionally, Edi Rama said something similar: “The Vetting is not done for those who serve the uniform. The Vetting is done for those who have stained the uniform…”

Contrary to that, the opposition is skeptic about this process.

The opposition’s leader Lulzim Basha stressed that the current problematic situation within State Police is not due to the absence of the law but to the transformation into a criminal organization by order of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the former-Socialist Minister of Interior, Sajmir Tahiri.

Although debates the Albanian Parliament on Monday approved a State Police vetting bill which will aim to check whether all members of the police are free of links to crime and corruption while also is assessing their professional abilities.

The law was approved by 88 votes pro and 32 abstentions and 1 against.


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TAGS: AlbaniaAnalysisCorruptionEuropean AccessionInternal ControlOrganized Crime