The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and during the year parliament introduced stricter penalties as part of the government’s wider anticorruption efforts. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government. From January through June, joint investigative units (JIUs), multiagency units that investigate and prosecute public corruption and other financial crimes, began 762 new investigations and sent 131 cases to court. Trials involving 129 cases concluded, resulting in guilty verdicts for 183 defendants and dismissals for 26. As of June court proceedings continued involving 289 defendants.
In December 2013, in a televised press conference, the minister of defense announced charges against the former defense minister, Arben Imami from the opposition political party, for corruption during a tender process for television advertisements. Prosecutors later dropped the case citing lack of evidence. Other charges filed against the former minister remained pending as of September.
During the year prosecutors indicted the head judge of the Puka District Court, the head of the district prosecution office, the chief clerk, the chief secretary, two private citizens, and a defense counsel on various charges related to active corruption, abuse of office, facilitation of corruption, and failure to report a crime. A court convicted the chief clerk, the chief secretary, the two private citizens, and the defense counsel. The cases against the chief judge and the district chief prosecutor were still in trial as of September.
In November 2013 the government assigned overall coordination of anticorruption activities to a newly created National Coordinator on Anticorruption, whose office oversees a network of anticorruption focal points in all the line ministries, in independent institutions, and at the local level. A restructured Unit on Internal Administrative Control and Anticorruption focused only on internal administrative control.
Corruption was a problem among police, and authorities took measures to combat it. Although the government’s Internal Control Service investigated and referred for prosecution a significantly higher number of police officers during the year than in 2013, courts convicted few of them.
The government made efforts to address widespread reports that police sometimes accepted bribes in return for not issuing citations or not entering personal information into crime databases. Police installed camera systems in police patrol vehicles, and officers refused bribes more often, citing the increased surveillance. The government also carried out a national public awareness campaign against bribery. The implementation of an automated system to manage traffic citations also reduced opportunities for corrupt practices by traffic police.
The Albanian State Police Economic Crime and Corruption Section investigated corruption cases. The section had a limited capacity for undercover investigations and surveillance, hampering its investigations. Other agencies, including tax and customs authorities and state auditors and regulators, also performed anticorruption investigations. Investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered their efforts, as well as those of the State Police. The European Commission reported that the State Police increased the number of corruption cases it referred for prosecution between October 2013 and March 2014 by 16 percent, compared with the same period in 2012-13.
Corruption also remained a problem in educational institutions, including public universities. Many students complained that teachers demanded bribes to pass courses, making it difficult for some students to obtain higher education.
The Office of the Prosecutor General, working through JIUs, handled prosecutions. There were eight JIUs in the nation’s largest cities. They made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption, but prosecution of higher-level crimes remained elusive due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and judicial corruption. The government increased the number of anticorruption prosecutors in regional prosecution offices during the year. The European Commission reported that convictions at district courts decreased by 8 percent, whereas convictions at appeals courts increased by 81 percent in the period October 2013-March 2014, compared with the same period in 2012-13.
In June responsibility for corruption cases involving high-level government officials, as well as judges, prosecutors, justice officials, and locally elected representatives, was transferred to the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office and the serious crimes courts.
Anticorruption enforcement agencies did not actively and sustainably collaborate with civil society in most cases but did cooperate in selective instances that international actors brought to their attention, many times at the request of civil society. They had sufficient resources.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI), which monitored and verified such disclosures. HIDAACI made these disclosures available to the public. During the year legal provisions were introduced to increase HIDAACI’s power to investigate declarations of assets and conflicts of interest. The provisions strengthened the institution’s capacities and increased public transparency. The law authorizes HIDAACI to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or to refer them to the prosecutor. As of August HIDAACI fined 175 individuals for delaying their submissions and for conflicts of interest. According to HIDAACI, it had referred 47 cases for prosecution as of August, including high-ranking public officials such as ambassadors and members of the High Council of Judges, other judges, prosecutors, the president’s legal assistant, tax and customs employees, and local government officials.
Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but the government did not effectively implement the law. The process for making information public often was not clear, and officials were sometimes reluctant to release information. The law stipulates that the right to access information can be restricted when information is categorized as classified or when such a release would violate the protection of personal data.
In September a new law on access to information was introduced. It provides for shorter deadlines for the disclosure of information as well as for the appointment of an information commissioner with the power to fine noncompliant institutions, and for the designation of information officers in all state agencies responsible for responding to information requests. Most government ministries and agencies posted public information directly on their websites. Businesses and citizens complained that the process lacked transparency and that authorities failed to publish some regulations and legislation that should be basic public information. Citizens often faced serious problems obtaining such information. Individuals could generally access government information free of charge, but there were specific cases in which processing fees were required to cover the cost of service for the institution providing the information. Noncompliance is punishable as an administrative rather than a criminal offense. Citizens may appeal denials of disclosure to the authority with which they filed the original request or in a civil court.