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Investigation 22 Nov 14

EU’s Albania Delegation Probed Over Justice Tender

The EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, is investigating claims that the EU Delegation in Albania offered a major tender to a German company for corrupt reasons, BIRN can reveal. 

Besar Likmeta
EU Flag | Photo courtesy: European Commision

A document obtained by BIRN shows that OLAF is investigating complaints against a tender held in May by the EU Delegation in Tirana.

“OLAF has reviewed the information received in accordance Regulation No 883/2013 and has opened an investigation,” the document reads.

The investigation centres on the tender for the EURALIUS IV project, which was held in May 2014 for a value of 4 million euro and which a German consulting company, IRZ, won.

Both the EU Delegation in Tirana and the German company have denied any wrongdoing.

“The allegation about irregularities with regard to the EURALIUS IV evaluation are wrong and are firmly rejected by the European Commission,” Clive Rumbold, head of the political and economic section at the EU Delegation, told BIRN in a statement.

‘The evaluation was done by a team of professional staff, which based their decision on technical criteria in line with the EU procedures,” he added.

IRZ described the allegations of corruption in the tender as “sour grapes” on the part of disappointed competitors in the procurement process.

EURALIUS is the European Assistance Mission to the Albanian justice system. The project aims is to “bring the Albanian Justice System closer to EU standards through technical assistance drawn from EU Member States”.

It supports the reform of the judicial system in Albania “in accordance with the priorities of the EU acquis in Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and European best practices and standards in the area”.

The first EURALIUS mission in Albania was first launched under the EU CARDS 2002 programme and was implanted by a consortium that included the ministries of justice of Germany and Italy. The project was extended from 2007 to 2010 and was renamed EURALIUS II.

The third EURALIUS mission was based on a grant funded by the Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance, IPA, and implemented by the Spanish Ministry of Justice in consortium with the Italian High Council of Magistrates.

Accusations about the EURALIUS tender first appeared in the semi-official blog of the EURALIUS III mission on May 14.

A post on the blog alleged that the EU Delegation’s decision to grant the EURALIUS IV contract to a consortium led by a German firm, with participation of Austria, was “purely political and obviously against EU laws and rules”.

The blog post, entitled “Corruption in the EU Delegation to Albania,” a copy of which was obtained by BIRN, was live only for five days. It was taken offline on May 19 under pressure from the EU Delegation in Tirana.  

“In different conversations, experts and officers of EU Delegation have recognized that the other proposal (led by Spain, with participation of Italy and France) was technically much better and more convenient for reform of justice,” the posting on the website read.

“However, they justify the decision in political pressures received from the current Socialist Party Albanian government,” the blog post claimed.

Former members of the Spanish-Italian team who ran EURALIUS III and also bid in the tender for the new mission claim the decision to award the Germans the contract was politically motivated and accuse the EU Delegation in Albania of corruption.   

In an interview with BIRN, the former head of the EURALIUS III mission, Joaquin Urias, backed the allegations posted in the blog and accused the EU Delegation of a lack of transparency and incompetence.

“Our proposal is accurate based on what is going on in the justice system in Albania, while the Germans do not even have a High Council of Justice,” Urias told BIRN.

He was referring to the fact that the High Council of Justice is one of the Albanian institutions that the EURALIUS IV is tasked with reforming.

Although Urias denied authoring the post of the EURALIUS blog, he said the allegations in the post were credible and he questioned the tender procedure.

“I cannot be sure it is corruption but the issue smells bad,” he added.

A former law professor at the University of Seville and Councilor in the Spanish Constitutional Court, Urias ran the EURALIUS III mission from 2010 to June 2013. After the mission ended, the EU Delegation in Tirana employed him until early 2014.

Urias accused the EU Delegation of a lack of transparency in the way it distributed assistance funds.

 “You have 4 million euro for technical assistance, not 4 million euro to keep happy the government,” Urias underlined.  “The problem is when they use EU money like it is their money,” he added.

During his work for the EU Delegation in Tirana, he covered justice reforms for Albania’s annual progress report, drafted by the European Commission.

Urias claimed the politicians in Tirana were only playing lip-service to Brussels when it comes to reforms while the local EU Delegation was too weak and at times too incompetent to pressure them. 

“Some of the EU staff are not good professionals,” Urias said.  “If, in our countries [like Spain], people knew how weak the EU is in negotiating with other countries [like Albania], it would be a big shock, a scandal,” he concluded.

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