The opposition said a recent report on money that was transferred out of Albania through illegal activities proves that the government is corrupt.
By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 03/01/13
Despite a 'zero tolerance' policy by the government, Albania is the most corrupt country in Europe, according to a 2012 Transparency International report. [EU]
Members of the Albanian government are disputing a Global Financial Integrity that said that almost $1.3 billion were moved illicitly out of the country from 2005-2010 through a combination of corruption, tax evasion and other illegal activities.
The report prompted the opposition Socialist Party to label Prime Minister Sali Berisha's government as corrupt and had the state’s finance minister urging critics to view the report from a regional perspective.
"Serbia ranks at 16th place with a negative influx of $5 billion per year, Bulgaria with $1.5 billion, Croatia with $1.5 billion and Montenegro with $1 billion a year," said Finance Minister Ridvan Bode, who indicated that Albania does not look bad by comparison.
But Global Financial Integrity does not agree.
"It's an enormous amount of money for a country like Albania to lose. If this money had stayed inside the country, it could have been used in infrastructure, education and to pull people out of poverty," Clark Gascoigne, a spokesman for the organisation, told reporters.
Arben Doçi, the head of the Money Laundering Prevention Agency, said that the figure published in the Global Financial Integrity' report is exaggerated.
"There is no data in the report regarding the nature of these transactions and the way this money flowed out of Albania. I can only say that we're talking about much exaggerated monetary volumes. Our institution scrutinises all suspicious transactions and cash movements over a certain threshold, and didn't run into such volumes," Doçi told SETimes.
Opposition leader Edi Rama said blame lies with the government. "In the best case the government turns a blind eye to this [money] that 'escaped' from Albania through an evasion, in the worst case it is part of the criminal links," Rama said.
When Berisha's government took over in 2005, the prime minister promised it would maintain a "zero tolerance" policy on corruption. But the government has spent the past seven years mired in a corruption scandal.
Erjon Braçe, vice chairman of the socialist parliamentary group and a member of the economic parliamentary commission, said that financial crime is eroding the economy.
"If you take a look at figures on the budgets during the years, there are incomes missing. Everything that has been reported matches with the corruption level in Albania as reported from Transparency International. The government agencies failure is behind all this criminal activity. They should collect duties, taxes and fees in the customs and these agencies carry out public procurements," Braçe told SETimes.
Economy experts said that the missing money represents an alarm bell.
"We should look at the problem of money transfer out of the country in two different levels. From one side, it shows that law enforcement agencies work better. Therefore dirty money doesn't find movement opportunities inside the country. On the other hand, the figure shows crime power in Albania and that it is a threat for democratic stability in the country," Zef Preçi, head of Albanian Centre for Economic Research, told SETimes.
In 2012, Transparency International ranked Albania as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The country was in 113th position out of 176 countries in 2012, down from 95th place in 2011.