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News 03 Nov 17

Albania's Special Prosecution Faces More Delays

The creation of a much-anticipated body in charge of investigating high-level corruption and organised crime in Albania is taking far longer than was expected.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
Illustrative picture by Pixaby 

Albania's long-awaited Special Prosecution Office, SPAK, tasked with investigating high-level cases of corruption and organised crime, has yet to be established even though its formation was approved in August last year.

The body comprising 10 prosecutors is seen as an important part of the wider judicial reform process in Albania, and will have under its jurisdiction the National Bureau of Investigation, a specialized section of the judicial police.

One of the main reasons for the delay in its creation is the time being taken by an "Ad Hoc Committee" to re-evaluate the country's current judges and prosecutors in a vetting process.

The business of vetting around 800 judges and prosecutors over their professional ability, morals, integrity, and independence from organised crime, corruption and politics, started only on Monday, when the committee took the first folders for checking.

Prosecutors deemed as qualified to sit on the SPAK must first undergo the vetting process, as must any candidates seeking to join the High Prosecutorial Council, the body that will select the SPAK prosecutors.

Cases expected to be investigated by SPAK

The Special Prosecution with its creation is expected to take for further investigation and under its jurisdiction all the undergoing cases of corruption of high officials and those of organised crime. Up to now these cases were handled by the Prosecution of Serious crime, while the final verdicts were taken by the Albanian Supreme Court. SPAK will also have the right to re-investigate cases of high officials accused of corruption, in case they are closed during their way without being finally judged. Alongside with Special Prosecution will also be established an Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Courts that will judge the cases of SPAK.

The vetting committee is not expected to finish the evaluation of the first judges and prosecution until the end of this year.

The formation of the High Prosecutorial Council - with 11 members -  which will be the highest prosecution body in the country, is also going through difficulties.

The body should be be formed of six prosecutors, two university lecturers, two attorneys and one lawyer from civil society.

However, the committee has failed to submit any candidates that meet the legal criteria to parliament.

Shefqet Muçi, a former member of Albania's Supreme Court and a doctor of law, told BIRN that delays in forming the new justice institutions would negatively affect the current system, by creating legal loopholes.

He believes that the real reason for the delays are the politicians' own fears that they will no longer have people they trust inside the court system.

"Politicians ... have dragged out this process in order to weaken it and to have a chance to influence the appointment of people that they trust. If the politicians got their way, the while process of creating the new bodies would have been closed down," he said.

The creation of SPAK is provided for under Albania's constitution, and is modelled directly on the good experience of Croatia's anti-corruption agency, USKOK, and Romania's tough anti-corruption directorate, DNA.

US and EU legal experts that are closely are monitoring judicial reform in Albania have been pushing for its adoption.

As an independent investigative body, SPAK is also expected to to act as a contact point in coordination over crime and corruption with the investigative authorities of other nations.

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