Albania and Kosovo Strengthen International Legal Cooperation

A bilateral meeting between Kosovo and Albania on International Legal Cooperation took place in Prizren, Kosovo from 30-31 January 2020. The meeting focused on the implementation of bilateral agreements and Joint Investigation Teams, judicial cooperation and cross-border issues, recognition and execution of judgments, arrest warrants, and extradition. The meeting was used as an opportunity to discuss challenges encountered in practice and deepen cooperation in fighting organised crime.

The participating delegation of Kosovo consisted from representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Office of the Chief State Prosecution, Special Prosecution, Basic Prosecution Offices, and Basic Courts of Prishtina, Prizren, Gjakova and Ferizaj. The delegation from Albania included representatives from the Ministry of Justice, General Prosecution Office, Public Prosecutions Offices of Tirana, Dibra, and Tropoje, and the Special Prosecution on Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK). The meeting concluded with recommendations of trainings for prosecutors and staff of the Ministries of Justice. It is also planned to continue and improve upon spontaneous exchanges of information and the frequency of meetings to discuss concrete cases.

EMPACT Firearms Kick-off Meeting: Coordinating Approaches for 2020

On 20-21 January 2020, the EMPACT Firearms OAP 2020 Kick-off Meeting was held at Europol Headquarters in The Hague. The meeting allowed all participating Member States of EMPACT Firearms to be formally introduced to the Operational Action Plan for 2020. Through EMPACT significant cooperation has been established between EU Member States, relevant institutions and agencies, and the Western Balkans beneficiaries, who were present at the meeting and will participate in a number of Operational Actions in the following year.

EMPACT works primarily on operational cooperation between the law enforcement agencies in Europe, the MENA region and South America. It also focuses on capacity building to ensure law enforcement agencies are adequately trained to fight organised crime, such as firearms trafficking and smuggling.

At this meeting, cooperation between EMPACT Firearms and the IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project was presented and a short overview of the next phase of the Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans was given.

Under the umbrella of EMPACT, other organisations are also working together towards a coordinated and systemic approach to the fight against serious organised crime, including EC, Europol, INTERPOL, Frontex, eu-Lisa, UNODC, Small Arms Survey, Flemish Peace Institute, El PAcCTO Project, SEESAC and PCC SEE.

Fugitive Active Search Team in Albania Advances its Position and Capabilities

The IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project has supported, from the very beginning, the establishment of the Fugitive Active Search Teams (FAST) Unit in Albania to enhance the competences of the Albanian State Police Officers engaged in the on-going investigations and search for fugitives.

Previously, in September 2019, the IPA/2017 CSCWB Project supported two Albanian FAST Unit representatives at the European Network of Fugitive Active Search Teams (ENFAST) Core Group Meeting in Krakow, Poland. During the three-day meeting, the most important issues related to activating searches for fugitives were addressed. Members of the ENFAST Group also expressed their positive vote for FAST Albania to participate as a “Candidate Observer Country” in the ENFAST working group. This vote represented a positive first step for FAST Albania to participate with the status of “Observer Country” in the future.

During November 2019, FAST Albania underwent a training about the FAST Operation Model, carried out by three Croatian experts. On 25 November, the functioning of the FAST Unit was regulated by the Instruction No. 684 “On the rules for conducting search and arrest of persons, as well as finding searched items”, signed by the Albanian Minister of Interior Sandër Lleshaj. Following this, the IPA/2017 CSCWB Resident Expert to Albania visited the FAST Unit Headquarters in Tirana.

Support from the Project to the Albanian FAST Unit will continue in the future. In February 2020, representatives from the Albanian FAST Unit will participate in the ENFAST group meeting in Croatia. During the meeting the status of Albania as an “Observer Country” shall be proposed and FAST Albania will be presented to other members of the ENFAST Group, who will make the final decision.

Strengthening International Cooperation in Financial Investigations

Under the umbrella of the “Improving Investigation Capacities of the Special State Prosecutor’s Office” Project, run by Center for Democratic Transition in Montenegro, and in association with the Center for Legal Research (CEPRIS) in Serbia, a study visit aimed to share knowledge about financial investigations to the Montenegrin Special State Prosecutors and the Montenegrin Special Police Unit was held.

The study visit took place from 18 – 21 December 2019 in Rome and was conducted at the Italian Ministry of Justice, Antimafia and Anti-terrorism National Directorate, Prison Service Department and Central Directorate for Criminal Police. The visiting delegation was impressed by the Italian expertise in the different units visited and appreciated the knowledge shared in relation to financial investigation best practises and methodologies.

The “Improving Investigation Capacities of the Special State Prosecutor’s Office” Project targets the Building Criminal Justice System theme, in the area of the fight against organised crime. Their main aim is to improve financial investigations and suppress money laundering in Montenegro by influencing public policies and improving investigative capacities of the Special State Prosecutor’s Office. This is achieved by increasing the knowledge of the public and stakeholders about financial crimes investigations and improving skills and capacities of the Special State Prosecutor’s Office, to best confront the challenges organised crime and corruption present.

International Criminal Network Dismantled in Skopje and Madrid

During a carefully planned, coordinated and executed international police operation involving North Macedonian, Spanish, Colombian and US law enforcement agencies, an international criminal network composed of criminal associates from North Macedonia, Spain, Colombia, Belgium and other countries was successfully dismantled. The operation was simultaneously conducted in Skopje and Madrid on 18 December 2019.

The police of North Macedonia, in coordination and cooperation with the police services of Spain and Colombia, as well as with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, arrested in Skopje two persons – members of an international organised criminal group involved in the transportation of 700 kg of cocaine from Columbia to Spain, with an estimated worth of around 20 million Euros. At the same time, in a parallel operation performed in Madrid, Spanish police arrested another three persons – members of the same international organized criminal group and seized 700 kg of cocaine. The entire international police operation was coordinated by the police headquarters in Skopje and Madrid, where a North Macedonian police officer was also deployed.

The IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project supported the North Macedonian police officer in the Madrid operation as part of its effort to support international investigations aimed at fighting serious and organised crime. More about the operation in Macedonian you can find on the web site of the Ministry of Interior here.

Regional Forum Seeks to Improve Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters

The Regional Forum on Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters: Revision of Bilateral Treaties Between Montenegro and The Countries of the Region took place on 16-17 December 2019 in the Avala Hotel in Budva, Montenegro and was organized by the Ministry of Justice of Montenegro, in cooperation with IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project, the US Embassy and International Development Law Orgnisation (IDLO).

The Forum was the seventh meeting of this kind in Montenegro and the third taking place as a Regional Judicial Cooperation Forum. It brought together representatives of Ministry of Justices, Prosecution Services and Courts from the Western Balkan countries and Croatia, as well as EU and regional experts, to discuss the challenges and opportunities for improving cooperation in criminal matters. This year the forum focused on joint investigation teams, cybercrime, war crimes, international projects and the academic community as support to judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

In addition to the above-mentioned topics, participants discussed the revision of bilateral treaties between Montenegro and the countries of the region, which will be adopted in the coming months.

The Regional Forum started with introductory speeches by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice of Montenegro Mr. Zoran Pažin, Ambassador of the USA to Montenegro Mrs. Judy Rising Reinke, IDLO Regional Program Manager Mrs. Margarita Meldon, and Seconded EU Prosecutor of the IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in Western Balkans Mr. Silvij Šinkovec.

Sea Gate Operational Meeting at Europol: Cooperation Opportunities

A Sea Gate Operational Meeting was held at Europol Headquarters in The Hague on 17 December 2019. The Head of Strategic Analysis at Europol and representatives from Albania, Croatia and Greece attended. Experts from the IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Team presented the Sea Gate Project, highlighting its main activities and outcomes achieved.

The aim of the Sea Gate Project is to enhance the international cooperation of competent law enforcement agencies involved in the fight against illicit trafficking taking place in the Adriatic Sea. During the meeting, representatives discussed possible Europol involvement and contributions to the Sea Gate Project to further its impact in the area.

Donation of Tools to Serbian National Forensic Center

On 13 December 2019 in Belgrade, IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project Leader Mr. Gennaro Capoluongo and Head of the Serbian National Forensic Center Mr. Mirko Matejic signed a Donation Agreement detailing the handover of tools for forensic evidence collection. The donation from the Project to the National Forensic Center seeks to contribute to the work being done by the Forensic Center, allowing more effective cooperation in the region and with EU agencies, and better operative results in serious and organised crime cases.

Head of the Criminal Police Directorate at the Serbian Ministry of Interior Mr. Dejan Kovacevic, representative of the EU Delegation Mr. Marcello Repici, and the police attachés of the Italian Embassy in Belgrade Ms. Gaetana Cannarozzo and Mr. Vincent Galioto were present for the ceremony.

During the meeting, Mr. Kovacevic emphasized the importance of the support given by the Project in these last few years and highlighted that it has been essential for many different activities carried by Serbian Law Enforcement Agencies. He stated that the cooperation has a strong foundation and Serbian institutions wish to continue working together. The Project agreed and looks forward to carrying on with such activities and supporting the country’s investigations of serious crime cases.

Albanian State Police Receives Forensic Equipment

A handover ceremony of forensic material from the IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project to the Albanian State Police took place on 10 December 2019 in Tirana. The IPA/2017 Project Leader Mr Gennaro Capoluongo attended, along with the Albanian Deputy Minister of the Interior Besfort Lamallari, representative of the European Union Delegation to Albania Francesco Torcoli and the Albanian Chief of Police Ardi Veliu, among others.

During the ceremony, Mr Veliu highlighted the valuable support the Albanian State Police has received from the IPA/2017 Project and the excellent level of cooperation they have maintained with one another. He emphasized the importance of the donation of the forensic material that will aid technical activities of the Albanian Police. Furthermore, the Chief of Police stressed the need for the Albanian Police to acquire, in a structured way, the list of condemned Albanian citizens reported or convicted in Italy for various crimes.

The representative of the EU Delegation Mr Torcoli highlighted not only the excellent outcomes achieved by IPA/2017 Project in Albania but also the Project’s strategic importance, well recognised by the European Union.

At the end of the ceremony, the IPA/2017 Project Team met the Albanian Minister of Interior Sander Lleshaj who thanked the Project for their considerable results, with particular reference to the support provided in the scope of investigative activities conducted by the Albanian Police and Judiciary.

Serbian Liaison Prosecutor to Take Position at Eurojust

The agreement between Serbia and Eurojust, signed by both parties on 12 November this year, passed the Serbian Parliament on 9 December and is effective as of 11 December, after all Serbian procedures relevant to the agreement were finalized and respective notifications were exchanged between both parties of the contract.

The Serbian Liaison Prosecutor to Eurojust is now expected to take up office at the Eurojust Headquarters in The Hague as of the first months of 2020.