Kosovo - Corruption
US Vice President Joe Biden warned the Kosovar government 17 August 2016 of the "cancer" of corruption, during his first visit to the Balkans since 2009. He underscored the dangers of corruption — what he called "a cancer that eats at the fabric of every society where it exists. In short, it jeopardizes everything Kosovo hopes to achieve, hopes to become, hopes for its future."
Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Kosovo 103rd out of 168 countries on its "Corruption Perceptions Index" of 2015. The 2011 World Bank’s “Doing Business” report ranks Kosovo 117th out of 183 economies. Transparency International’s (TI) 2011 “Corruption Perceptions Index” shows public opinion of corruption in Kosovo to be “widespread”; TI’s perceived level of public sector corruption ranked Kosovo 112 out of 183 countries and territories surveyed. Public sector corruption in government procurement tenders and privatization including bribery of public officials, and officials seeking payoffs, remains an impediment for foreign firms operating in Kosovo. Corruption also remains widespread in private industry, adversely affecting commercial development.
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices. The Law on the Suppression of Corruption was passed in May 2005, creating an Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) to address this problem. This agency is tasked with, among other duties, preparing an anti-corruption strategy for Assembly approval, conducting administrative investigations of alleged corruption cases, and monitoring proper implementation of the Corruption Law.
In 2008, the Kosovo government took additional legislative steps to combat corruption. Government officials are now required to disclose all gifts received, as stipulated by the Law on Suppression of Corruption. In June 2009, the Assembly passed the Law on Declaration, Origin and Control of Assets of Senior Public Officials requiring government officials to file asset declarations upon entry and exit from government service. ACA reports say that over 95% of all senior officers declared their assets; non-reporting officials were subject to court proceedings, with fines resulting in some cases. In January 2010, the Kosovo Assembly adopted the new Law on Anti-Corruption that brought a new approach to combating corruption. Since 2003, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has conducted financial inspections of public bodies and enterprises, as well as other organizations funded by the Kosovo Budget. The FIU also has the authority to conduct criminal investigations.
There was widespread public perception of corruption in the government. International organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that corruption was a serious problem. A lack of effective judicial oversight and general weakness in the rule of law contributed to corruption in the government. The institutional weakness of the Anticorruption Agency also contributed to lax oversight of anticorruption efforts. In November the European Commission reported some progress in the fight against corruption, including the government’s “starting to tackle some of the corruption cases.”
There are frequent reports of irregularities in public tendering procedures. The recent revision of the Public Procurement Law and a significant increase in public audits from the Office of the Auditor General are important steps forward. The Public Procurement Law clearly defines the division between executive and regulatory functions, in accordance with EU practices. Tax evasion is high, and there are reports that certain local and foreign businesses are concerned about the professional ethics of some government officials, who have purportedly accepted bribes in exchange for licenses, permits, movement of paperwork or even routine public services. Traditional lending and business practices tend to favor personal connections and nepotism over creditworthiness.
On 20 September 2011, investigators from the EULEX Special Prosecutor’s Office interviewed former minister of transport and telecommunications and assembly member Fatmir Limaj related to an investigation. Investigators suspected Limaj of embezzling as much as 80 million euros ($104 million) from the ministry and through tendering procedures during his tenure as minister. On November 16, in response to a request of the EULEX Special Prosecutor’s Office, the Supreme Court granted a final six-month extension to the investigatory period in the case.
On May 3, 2011, an appeals panel confirmed the indictment against five citizens for trafficking in human organs, organized crime, unlawful medical activities, and abuse of official authority in 2008. The charges related to the Medicus Clinic in Pristina, which the KP closed in 2008 after a months-long investigation for the international trafficking of organs. On June 10, a EULEX prosecutor from the Special Prosecutor’s Office filed an additional indictment against two individuals. The trial began on October 4, 2011 at Pristina District Court before a panel of one Kosovo and two EULEX judges. All seven defendants pleaded not guilty.
Corruption and government influence remained problems in the security forces. In June 2011 the KP Anticorruption Task Force arrested eight KP officers from the Mitrovice/Mitrovica Operations Support Unit on charges of corruption and taking bribes. The officers were suspected of extorting money from truck drivers at vehicle checkpoints.
On 15 December 2011, a mixed panel of EULEX and Kosovo judges in the Pristina District Court dismissed all five counts of a corruption-related EULEX indictment against former Central Bank of Kosovo governor Hashim Rexhepi due to lack of evidence. EULEX initially filed an indictment against Rexhepi on suspicions of abuse of official position, corruption, bribery, tax evasion, and money laundering in August 2010.
On 08 September 2011, the pretrial judge in the Pristina District Court dismissed all charges against customs director Naim Huruglica and customs legal advisor Lulzim Rafuna for involvement in a scheme to deprive the government of 2.5 million euros ($3.3 million) in cigarette tax revenue. The judge ruled that EULEX prosecutors had no credible evidence to secure a conviction. However, on October 19, a mixed panel of Kosovo and EULEX judges in the District Court of Pristina decided to uphold partially an appeal by the prosecution and confirmed one count of the indictment, abuse of official position.
The Anticorruption Agency and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) are the two major agencies responsible for combating corruption in the government. During the year the Anticorruption Agency received approximately 150 reports of corruption in addition to 67 cases that carried over from 2010; 25 cases were referred for prosecution, 10 were passed to the KP, approximately 100 were closed for lack of evidence, and approximately 70 were under investigation. The OAG reviewed fiscal management and accountability in the central government, municipal authorities, and publicly owned enterprises. During the year the OAG audited most ministries, the president’s office, and the Assembly.
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