Ledina Mandija is the National Coordinator for Albania of the Regional Project for the Fight against Corruption and Organized Crime in the Western Balkans through Strengthening Regional Cooperation in Asset Recovery. Supported by the UK Government and implemented by the AIRE Centre and the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative, this Project promotes greater regional cooperation on asset confiscation and recovery. The last steps taken within the project were the creation of the Regional Network of Asset Recovery Experts and the online platform for the exchange of information in this field. Coordinator Mandija notes many positive developments regarding access to asset recovery in Albania.
“Albania now has the SPAK (Special Structure against Corruption and Organized Crime), the Special Court against Corruption, which were created as part of a special structure for the investigation, prosecution and trial of corruption and organized crime cases, as a result of the 2016 Constitutional Reform Package, but implementation came later. Currently, Albania has a complete legal framework for a fully functional financial investigation, prosecution and trial of cases of corruption and organized crime. The Special Prosecution carries out criminal prosecutions and represents the accusing party on behalf of the state before the Special Courts, performing its functions independently, through special prosecutors, who are appointed by the High Prosecution Council. The NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) is a specialized judicial police unit that investigates criminal offenses committed by government officials and others suspected of being involved in criminal offenses related to organized crime and corruption, under the jurisdiction of the Special Prosecution Office according to the SPAK Law of 2016 (Law on the Organization and Operation of Institutions to Fight Corruption and Organized Crime). The Special Prosecution Office and the NBI have expertise, but also engage in institutional cooperation. It is very important to note that our institutions work for the generation of effective statistics and provide opportunities for training capacities working in this field, as well as cooperation, exchange of information and experiences for the return of assets. Only this approach can ensure long-lasting effects in this area”, underlines Mandija.
Thanks to the support from the United Kingdom Government and the efforts of this Project, a regional conference of asset recovery experts was organized in Tirana in March this year, which led to the creation of a network that will focus on more efficient exchange of information and of practices in the Western Balkans.
“We have developed strong contacts and the AIRE Centre now connects institutions and encourages professionals to cooperate in order to return assets under the anti-mafia law. Albania must continue to strengthen the dialogue with our neighbours, as this is the only way to successfully fight corruption and organized crime”, emphasizes Mandija.
Asset recovery legislation in Albania is regulated by the special anti-mafia law as well as the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, which deal with ordinary confiscation, covering offenses with strong links between criminal offenses and the proceeds of crime. Enhanced confiscation, a key measure in the fight against organized crime and corruption, is dealt with by the anti-mafia law, which is lex specialis law.
“The purpose of the anti-mafia law, which also applies to extended confiscation, is expressly defined in its Article 2 and includes the prevention and fight against organized crime, trafficking, corruption and other crimes through confiscation of the assets of persons who have an unjustified economic status arising from suspected criminal activities. The two main criteria for this are unjustified economic status and participation in criminal activity. The law provides a basis for the confiscation of specific assets, the value of which is clearly disproportionate to the person’s income from legal sources; but also confiscation of any other assets (monetary, movable and immovable) except those subject to confiscation, in the conditions that the latter have been alienated, dissolved, transferred, hidden or moved”, adds Mandija.
With her experience of representing Albania in international arbitrations and in the European Court of Human Rights, Coordinator Mandija underlines the importance of protecting the standard of human rights in anti-mafia law enforcement procedures in all steps of the process from investigation, adjudication and recovery of assets or their administration, in order to ensure that results are ensured in the public interest.
“We need to improve the work and cooperation of the institutions from the beginning to the end, in order to have final decisions that actually end with permanent and final confiscation of the property. We are talking to experts from Albania and are looking forward to specific cases that can be used as examples for initial and ongoing training of magistrates and other experts in this field. We see the progress made thanks to the implementation of the necessary measures for the operational functioning of SPAK and it is expected that the implementation of the legislation will become even stronger in the future. Also, Albania has focused on building expertise for financial investigations. Our institutions have access to various funds for training and specialization. It is important that organizations such as the AIRE Centre and RAI recognize these steps as they move forward and encourage the Western Balkans for further reforms in the public interest and strengthening the rule of law in Albania,” Mandija emphasizes.
The Regional Asset Recovery Experts Network will include judges, prosecutors and legal experts from Albania.
“Only full regional cooperation can ensure an effective fight against corruption and organized crime. We can work together to improve access to financial investigation, creating modern and efficient data systems and the best possible data collection, storage and circulation methodologies. This can also be done through coordinated efforts between the institutions of Albania and the institutions of the region. This is important to cooperate and make it more difficult to remove assets and criminals from the country and transfer assets. All the countries of the region share the same problems, the same issues and challenges. This is why we need the Asset Recovery Network, to share information, find best practices and collaborate”, concludes Mandija.