Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kosovo Hindered by Uncooperative Justice System

The Kosovo Anti-Corruption Agency claims that, despite identifying significant wealth among public officials, courts and prosecutors have failed to take decisive action such as asset confiscation or thorough investigation of criminal complaints.

Hundreds of public officials annually report  their wealth to the Kosovo Anti-Corruption Agency, APK,  yet the justice authorities have not carried out any confiscation of unexplained/unreasonable assets.

“There are a large number of officials who have declared large sums of wealth. We cannot inquire into the origins of these incomes unless they were generated during the wealth declaration process,”  Ylli Buleshkaj, director of the agency, told Kallxo Përnime TV Programme on May 4, 2024.

He emphasised that, despite the agency filing criminal complaints against some officials who had more income than what they declared, judicial institutions have not taken action.

“The Criminal code stipulates that undeclared wealth should be confiscated, but we have not received any requests for this, neither from the courts nor the prosecution to take such measures, “ Buleshkaj emphasised.

According to him, in many of these cases the officials claim they forgot to declare certain assets, and “the prosecution has trusted them, closing the case since they couldn’t prove it as a criminal offence”. 

Buleshkaj notes that, in addition to the lack of asset confiscation, fines have not been substantial enough to prevent such violations in the future.

“We also have politicians with billions in wealth, many of whom we couldn’t verify as they might not have it in Kosovo; we don’t have authorization as an institution to conduct investigations outside the country. We hand them over to the prosecution, and they close the cases, even though through international legal mechanisms there could be fuller access,” Buleshkaj further stated.

In one case,  a non-governmental organisation reported that a politician had millions of euros in Swiss banks. “This information came out only because there was a leak from the bank,” he explained.

“The agency does not have the competence to assess the value of a property; we can refer to the value determined by property taxation. For cars, we have another mechanism; we inform customs, and based on the catalogue, we determine the value. We don’t automatically trust what they declare,” Buleshkaj added.

“We have a large number of politicians driving cars registered under business names not related to them. Even at the Assembly yard, if we look closely, there are undeclared vehicles,”  he warned, claiming that the Tax Agency and Prosecutor’s Office should look into the cars owned by public figures.

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The Anti-Corruption Agency has a four pillar mandate: declaration of wealth and gifts, conflict of interest prevention, protection of whistleblowers, and monitoring the national strategy against corruption.

According to the agency’s director, there is a growing trend in one source contracts since the start of Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine, “It’s not against the law when they’re of an urgent nature.” In order to conclude public contracts through public procurement, contracting authorities can use different procurement procedures. These procedures are defined by the Law on Public Procurement. research found that although 82.15 percent of the total value of 810.44 million euros contracted in 2023 were through an open procedure, the next most common form of contracts were those with a negotiated procedure and agreed to without publication of the contract notice. 

The Procurement law enables the use of negotiated procedures, also known one source contracts, in cases of extreme emergencies, although no details are given of what constitutes an extreme emergency, which creates opportunities for different interpretations. 

These contracts are not open for public bidding, and instead the contracting authority invites one or several operators to submit bids.

“If we notice misuse and abuse of contracts as tools for corruption, then we can make recommendations. Although they are a one source contract, they need to be registered, and an assessment should be made if these types of contracts are necessary,” he said.

“We’ve had cases where we’ve annulled tenders and contracts in municipalities due to conflicts of interest in which case the agency can order the restart of the tender procedures”, Buleshkaj stated.

Source @Prishtina Insight: Read more : Kosovo Kosovo News