OSCE Questions Efficiency, Quality of Balkan Organised Crime, Graft Trials

An exhaustive analysis of organised crime and corruption trials in five Western Balkan countries identified a lack of efficiency, staffing, fairness and quality.

Judicial proceedings in cases of organised crime and corruption in the Western Balkans are often inefficient, lack quality and underutilise the possibility of asset seizure, according to a new report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, based on three years’ of monitoring.

The report presents the findings from the monitoring of 264 cases in five countries – Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina between July 2021 and March this year.

It found that “proceedings are somewhat inefficient, including due to case management and a lack of procedural discipline. Indictments and verdicts can lack quality, and asset forfeiture remains underutilised”.

“Moreover, plea agreements are often not used strategically and rarely secure the forfeiture of illegal gains,” the report said, noting that “effectiveness seems to be hampered by insufficient commitment by relevant justice sector stakeholders”.

“Judicial institutions face material and human resources challenges, especially in terms of specialised experts for financial investigations,” the authors wrote. “Even in jurisdictions with a seemingly sufficient number of judges and prosecutors, resource allocation may be ineffective or inefficient.”

Staff shortages, long trials

The launch of the OSCE Western Balkans Trial Monitoring Report ‘From Paper to Practice’, on organized crime and corruption processes, in Pristina, Kosovo, June 5, 2024. Photo: OSCE in Kosovo Official X account

One of the main concerns in Albania is the tendency to keep defendants in pre-trial detention: “this practice has implications for trial proceedings, as a day in pre-trial detention equates to one-and-a-half days in the final conviction sentence,” the report stated. “This is often used as a defence tactic to minimise sentences but contributes to trial delays.”

The Albanian government has drafted changes to the Criminal Code to change the calculation so that a day in pre-trial detention equates to one day in any potential final sentence.

In Bosnia, the report cited “a lack of sufficient human resources” and said that “planning around existing human resources across all institutions remains problematic”.

“Given the slow pace of the appointment process, judicial positions often remain unfulfilled for months and sometimes years. Judges also lack adequate support staff,” the report stated, though it cited some progress with the inclusion of economic advisers in prosecutor’s offices to help with financial data.

Kosovo also struggles with lengthy proceedings and a lack of resources, the OSCE said.

The country’s “ongoing challenges perpetuate a perception of impunity and undermine public trust in the justice system,” it said, adding that judges have difficult interpreting and implementing new procedural provisions and a “high number” of organised crime and corruption cases end up being returned for retrial.

Poor quality indictments

In Montenegro, the OSCE welcomed the long-awaited appointment of a new Chief Special Prosecutor in March 2022, saying there had been “significant progress in the number of indictments filed against high-profile defendants that are of particular public interest”.

Nevertheless, the report cited a continuing lack of efficiency: “Out of the 59 cases under monitoring, only two have been finalised. One resulted in an acquittal, while the other was finalised at the pre-trial stage as the indictment was not confirmed. Only eight cases were completed in the first instance trial during the Project’s implementation period”.

In North Macedonia, the OSCE said that poor case management leads to lengthier trials and simultaneously “raises questions about trial fairness”. The country also has “poor-quality indictments, insufficient financial investigations, and low confiscation rates”, which raise concerns about impartiality.

Across the region as a whole, “in the majority of indictments in all jurisdictions, the project found discrepancies between the factual description and the legal qualification, inadequate reasoning and even a failure to specify the economic damage allegedly caused by the offence,” the OSCE said. Such shortcomings “often lead to charges not being proved and, consequently, to acquittals and limited asset forfeiture”.

Source @Prishtina Insight: Read more : Kosovo Kosovo News