Croatian Diplomat, Head of EU Delegation in Albania, Under Police Protection Due to Death Threats

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Croatian ambassador, who is the EU’s representative in Tirana, advocates for reform of the judiciary in Albania.

Head of EU Delegation in Albania, Croatian diplomat Romana Vlahutin, and members of her family have been given 24-hour police protection, after the death threats she has been receiving recently intensified, report and Der Standard on February 25, 2017.

The threats are associated with her attempts to initiate the reform of the judiciary in Albania, which Austrian daily Der Standard calls an example of “endemically corrupt country”. Although Albania has received the candidate status for membership in the European Union, its judiciary is exceptionally corrupt. The fight against corruption in Albania involves various EU and US institutions, and death threats have reportedly been also received by US Ambassador Donald Lu and Genoveva Ruiz Calavera from the European Commission.

Vlahutin is a former adviser to Croatian President Ivo Josipović, and in 2014 she was appointed as the Head of EU Delegation in Tirana.

Vlahutin, Lu and Calavera are members of the presidency of an anti-corruption committee, which should monitor the activities and personal assets of judges and prosecutors in Albania, with the goal of removing corrupt individuals from the Albanian judicial system. Threats have become particularly frequent in recent times. Although it was clear from the very beginning that it would be difficult to implement reforms of the judiciary in Albania, even people with good knowledge about the situation in the country are surprised by the intensity of the pressure.

The diplomats have recommended to Albanian parliament candidates who should form the commission for monitoring judicial reforms. For the first time in the history of the Albanian judiciary, this commission should remove corrupt prosecutors and judges from the state apparatus. And that has obviously made certain criminals associated with them nervous, given that they had managed to have some of their people appointed to high-ranking political positions.

The diplomats should act not only within the legal framework, but should also assess who in the judiciary is associated with whom in political circles. The US Embassy has already denied entry visas to certain representative of the judicial system. While corrupt judges and prosecutors fear for their jobs, criminals who have benefited thanks to bribery fear for their wealth. And politicians worry that cases of corruption will come to light.

In a recent speech, Vlahutin said that implementation of a fair and independent justice system was a prerequisite for a functional market economy, reported the ATA news agency. “An independent, fair and accountable justice system is not only fundamental to the functioning of democracy but it is also the prerequisite of a functioning market economy”, said Vlahutin. “Just like any other key segment of the society, the business community needs to trust in institutions, needs stability and predictability. And in a way, the vetting process that has started symbolically goes beyond the justice system as this is a societal and an economic reform”, concluded Vlahutin.

Criticism has been coming primarily from Albanian Justice Minister Petrit Vasili, a member of the junior coalition partner LSI. In his letter addressed to the European Union and the United States, he wrote that the international monitoring group was unconstitutional and illegal. It is believed that LSI – headed by Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta, one of the most influential people in Albanian politics – is also bothered by the fact that the US and EU are cooperating primarily with Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Meta did not want to talk about the details. “Everything will be resolved step by step. The monitoring process will be conducted by Albanian institutions, in the presence of an international observer mission. We expect that the commission will start working in the coming weeks”, said Meta for Der Standard.

How nervous certain oligarchs in Albania have become is best demonstrated by a campaign which has been led against Vlahutin. She is being criticized for alleged connections with billionaire and patron George Soros and various unsubstantiated illegalities. Maja Kocijančič, the spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union, recently deplored what she called press fabrications against Vlahutin and expressed EU’s full support and confidence in the ambassador and the entire team.

“The Delegation will continue, with dedication and in close coordination with the EU institutions, to accompany Albania in its difficult rule of law reform to put in place a solid and dependable judicial system which the citizens of Albania want and deserve. Albania is a candidate country making, as confirmed by Commission’s November 2016 report, strong progress towards the EU and we will consistently offer our support for the momentum to continue”, said Kocijančić.


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