OCCRP Weekly News Roundup

Developments in Albania and Kosovo

One week after a former deputy prime minister of Albania was acquitted of corruption charges, human rights watchers and citizens are expressing their discontent about the verdict.

An investigation has finally begun into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four Albanians in peaceful demonstrations last year outside Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s office. Three government officials have been arrested in connection with the deaths, including the head of Albania’s Republican Guard.

Albania has agreed to sign an agreement with the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) to comply with investigations into organ trafficking. Berisha said he agreed with chief investigator John Clint Williamson to “institutionalize cooperation between the two authorities.” Williamson is in charge of determining whether or not members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) harvested the organs of Serb prisoners during the 1999 war in Kosovo.

A Canadian man who received an organ transplant in Kosovo will be a key witness in the trial against seven men, including a Turkish doctor and an Israeli citizen for organ trafficking. The Canadian, Raul Fain, paid US$127,000 to buy a kidney from Pristina’s Medicus Clinic, which is at the center of the investigation.

On the eve of Kosovo’s fourth anniversary as an independent state, 62 government officials have been fined by the state anti-corruption agency for failing to declare assets.

Four years after the largest ever European Union Police Mission was dispatched, not a single Kosovan has been indicted for organized crime, raising concern in Brussels and elsewhere, writes the EU Observer.

Serbia: Public Procurement Pains Cost Taxpayers at least €800 million

After inspecting 47 government bodies and public companies, Serbia’s auditor, DRI, found that some departments wasted money and in some cases broke the law. The total damage is to the tune of at least €800 million, or 10 percent of the country’s 2010 budget, writes Gordana Igric for Balkan Insight.

In addition to incidents of misspent funds, the institutions failed to report assets worth €5 billion, including “about 597 apartments, a garage with 265 parking spaces, 43 shops, 1,989 acres of land and other properties.”

Regularities were reported in each of the seven ministries examined (finance, defence, health, interior, economy and regional development, environment, mining and spatial planning and Kosovo), writes Igric. Moreover, “of €50 million allocated in the budget only for specialised and contractual services, one fifth or €9.5 million, was spent in an irregular way.”

Vatican Ratifies Anti-Organized Crime Treaties

In the midst of its own corruption scandal, the Vatican has signed on to three international treaties aimed at combating corruption, organized crime, and terror financing.

On Wednesday, the Holy See signed the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999), the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (2000) and the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988).

In a news release Thursday from Rome, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the secretary for relations with states, said the ratification signifies “a further recognition by the Holy See of the efforts of the community of states to prevent and combat the most serious forms of transnational criminal activity.”

The Pope reminded the faithful that: “The Holy Father reminds us that terrorism and organized crime threaten the dignity of human beings and the common good in every country in the world.”

This is a good sign for the world’s smallest country, surrounded by an Italy increasingly under the influence of mafia groups.

Russia: Official Receives Record Corruption Fine

A former Russian official from the central republic of Tatarstan received a record fine for accepting a bribe. But some critics are not sure if the large bribe is an evasive measure to ward off real punishment. A court commanded Alexandr Timofeyev to pay 300 million rubles (US$10 million) for accepting 5 million rubles from a businessman who wanted land.

Timofeyev is the first to be sentenced after a law passed in May which raised fines for bribe takers.

Not everyone is convinced about the punishment. “It might be a means of allowing senior officials to escape real punishment,” Kirill Kabanov, chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, told the media Tuesday.

The cost of a bribe in Russia has more than tripled in 2011, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry's Main Economic Security Department told Interfax. The same spokesman said that authorities have more than doubled their success rate of solving corruption and organized crime cases.

Police have finished their investigation into the pretrial detention center accused of abusing and mistreating whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, but a full investigation into his death has been extended until April 24, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin announced Tuesday.

Investigators uncovered that the doctor ignored Magnitsky's complaints about poor health and failed to render him medical help. Meanwhile, the head of medical support at detention center has been accused of failing to supervise staff and defying Magnitsky's pleas,” Markin said.

Magnitsky died in isolation in November 2009 after exposing the largest tax fraud in Russian history. Why has it taken until January 2012 to determine that he was mistreated?

Europe has asked that American political campaigns be more transparent http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/apnewsbreak-european-anti-corruption-body-warns-us-on-political-financing/2012/01/26/gIQANsdATQ_story.html