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News 15 Nov 17

Albania Police Crack Scam to Grab Public Beaches

Ten current and former officials from the property registry office and local government have been arrested after Albanian police uncovered a devious scam to appropriate public land along the coast.

Gjergj Erebara
BIRN
Tirana
Spille beach. Photo: Arianit/Wikimedia Commons

The pristine nature of an area on the Adriatic coast known as Spille beach in central Albania attracts many tourists each year.

But 10 state officials apparently visited the beach for more than sun and tourism.

Albania's police say the group hatched a scheme whereby locals were declared owners of the land – and immediately sold it on.

Lutfi Minxhozi, chief of the police's economic crime unit, said on Wednesday that under the scam, 360,000 square metres of state-owned land was reclassified from "unproductive land" to "agricultural land" and as such, distributed to about 108 local farmers.

Some of these beneficiaries later signed sale documents or gift contracts for the land. Minxhozi said some of them did not know that their names were being used in such a way.

At the suspects' homes, police found scores of  land deeds, land sale contracts and other documents used in the appropriation scheme.

Among the officials arrested are former or current local government officials and officials from the land registry agency.

Albania decided to distribute farmland nationalised under the Communists among farmers for free back in 1991. The lands were distributed through so-called "Land Distribution Committees" that worked up to 2003.

But, unlike farmland, beaches were declared public property and they were not allowed to be distributed among villagers as "agriculturally unproductive land". For this reason, police codified the operation "the sandbank".

Over the last few years, police in Albania have uncovered several cases in which public land had been appropriated through similar schemes.

The unclear ownership status of land along the coast is considered the single biggest obstacle to the development of tourism in Albania.

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