Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Albanian Drugs And Corruption Threaten U.S. Interests In The Balkans
BY DR. THEODORE KARASIK
SERBIA-ALBANIA-VUCIC-RAMAGetty - Andrej Isakovic
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NATO member and EU aspirant Albania is preparing for upcoming parliamentary elections slated for June 18, 2017. The Balkans and their importance to the United States, NATO, and most of all, Europe, cannot be denied, as the region is Europe's soft underbelly.
Albania’s neighbors - Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece - are all under pressure from declining economies to migrants to terrorism.
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Albania is the key to the West Balkan security. Russia is threatening the Balkans, as seen by an attempted plot to thwart the Montenegrin elections, in order to halt the swing of this southeast European state towards NATO and the EU.
Under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s influence in the Balkans is growing, as Ankara sees the Balkans as “the gateway to Europe." Erdogan himself used the Srebrenica massacre as proof of Europe's hatred of Muslims and the need for Ankara’s guidance towards these communities. The Turkish President's duel with Germany is escalating.
Finally, there is the tsunami of drug money overtaking Albania, as the Socialist Party-linked oligarchs (close to the Prime Minister Edi Rama - pictured above - and his cabinet) are buying up the country’s assets (banks, hydroelectric, telecoms, etc.) and hampering vital judicial reform.
Albania’s oligarchs will not be able to conduct business as usual if the broken legal system is fixed. Thus, Albania remains one the weakest links of Southeastern Europe.
Currently, Albania is negotiating European Union accession, passing most of the EU's tests for membership, including political, institutional and economic reforms, but judicial reform is the stumbling block.
It seeks to vet hundreds of judges and prosecutors, to create new legal norms to stop political interference in investigations and court cases, and to eradicate corruption.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Rama is using judiciary reform to accomplish state capture by appointing loyalists. Judicial corruption is hampering Albania's democratic evolution, creating rifts in a frail country. Major mobsters are still being overlooked for prosecution, and the political culture tolerates graft, while Albania’s judges are living well beyond their publicly disclosed means.
EU and U.S. experts who are involved in drafting the judicial reform note that Rama’s cabinet is at war with the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, the Supreme Justice Council, and the General Prosecutor. Judicial officials are jockeying for lucrative payoffs from Albania’s crime bosses.
The opposition in turn has blamed former Interior Minister, Saimir Tahiri, for covering up massive marijuana drug trade.
In turn, Fatmir Xhafa, a proposed Socialist Prime Minister and head of the Election Reform Commission, is now under attack by opposition members for his relative’s drug smuggling conviction in Italy.
The Democratic Party argues that Rama’s government is corruption-infested and they may boycott the upcoming election. An election collapse could send Albania into chaos, turning it into a combination of drug-producing Colombia and socialist Venezuela.
Albania is not only Europe’s largest marijuana producer, but also a hub for narcotics, such as heroin and cocaine, that arrive from the Middle East and North Africa because of weak border controls and customs enforcement.
These hard drugs find their way via Italy to Europe. Italian prosecutors, working with the National Anti-Mafia Directorate (DNA), are attempting to break the Albanian Mafia and its alliance with the Italian ‘Ndrangheta mafia. Europe and the U.S. can ill afford to allow Albania to become the Colombia of the Balkans.
U.S. attempts to nudge Albania towards judicial reform are unsuccessful, as U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu is taking the Socialists’ side. In a round table in Tirana, Lu directly attacked the General Prosecutor of Albania, saying, “[Prosecutor General] Adriatik Llalla is against Justice!”
The U.S. Ambassador comments caused a frenzy in the Albanian press, with both the government and commentators attacking Lu for “backing George Soros,“ “interfering in Albania’s accession to EU and electoral process,” and backing the Socialist Party against the opposition Democratic Party.
Prime Minister Rama is indeed a close friend to George Soros, who attended the meddlesome Hungarian-born billionaire's wedding in 2013. Soros is running his own agenda in the Balkans, clearly colliding with the Trump Administration's priorities.
Prime Minister Rama's policies appear to undermine the stability of the Balkans and Albania itself. Despite U.S. confusion and lack of direction, America and the EU have to push for free and fair elections in Albania, dispatching election observers through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and U.S. NGOs.
Second, the U.S. law enforcement and the Interpol must investigate the ties of Prime Minister Rama with recently dismissed Minister of Interior Tahiri and organized crime in Italy regarding marijuana distribution.
Finally, the U.S. should not play favorites with political parties in a democratic country. This usually backfires.
This week, American and EU envoys will come for the launch the international monitoring operation for the June elections. The eyes of the United States will be on Albania, as will be the eyes of the European Union and its member countries. OSCE, and the Council of Europe’s will be watching as well. Most importantly, the Albanian people and the civil society need to remain vigilant to prevent corruption socialist elite from stealing their democracy. The international partners of Albania will support their efforts.