Good Morning, Ambassador del Monaco, Ambassador Soreca, Deputy Minister of Interior Lamallari, distinguished speakers and guests.
I am pleased to be with you today as you take on an important aspect of combatting organized crime: asset recovery, and – more specifically – how to make effective use of seized assets to advance rule of law, good governance, and other societal objectives.
First, let me say it is a pleasure to be on this virtual stage with Ambassador del Monaco and to welcome him as a new colleague in our shared endeavor between the people of Albania and the international community to improve good governance and strengthen the rule of law in this country. I know, Ambassador, that you have considerable expertise and experience, and I look forward to working with you in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
In fact, this workshop is an excellent example of the close cooperation enjoyed between the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as it comes in the context of a regional OSCE project that the United States is pleased to support. Organized crime respects no borders, and the international response must think and act accordingly. The dirty proceeds of criminal activity in Italy, the United Kingdom, or the United States often find their way back to Albania, where they are laundered and used to fatten the wallets of criminals, lubricate corruption, and bankroll further criminality. Tackling these issues regionally and internationally while assuring alignment of legal and policy approaches is important to minimize “criminal arbitrage” that allows bad actors to exploit gaps between countries’ legal structures.
And when countries are successful at identifying and seizing illicitly-obtained assets, it not only targets criminals where it hurts the most — their dirty money making – but it also discourages criminal activity. Those assets can be responsibly repurposed to advance social good and demonstrate to the public that fighting organized crime is a responsibility shared by all, because it affects all of us.
Combatting organized crime is a key priority for the United States, and strengthening the role of civil society in preventing corruption and criminality goes hand-in-hand with that priority. The social reuse of the confiscated assets of organized crime is a perfect example of how these priorities are interrelated and support each other. Coincidentally, I spoke on this very same topic yesterday at an event to mark the end of an Embassy-supported program together with Partners Albania that worked with civil society on effective social re-use of seized assets. I’m pleased to see Partners Albania here again today, and others that participated yesterday as well.
Effectively managing and re-using confiscated assets is one of the key ways to ensure that what has been stolen from societies is given back. The social re-use of assets sends a strong signal to citizens about the strength and effectiveness of the rule of law and public institutions. This approach can create sustainable businesses, enhance employment opportunities, and help advance projects for social good in the areas of education and youth empowerment.
Albania is, at this point, the most advanced country in Southeast Europe when it comes to putting into practice the legislative framework for social re-use of confiscated assets. I would like to commend the Agency for the Administration of Sequestered and Confiscated Assets for its excellent work in this area as well as its commitment to close collaboration with civil society organizations. We already have several good examples where organized crime assets were put to community use that I am sure you will hear more about today.
And when the proceeds of crime are repurposed for good, it is transformational! Take for instance a bakery – KeBueno in Fiers, run by ENGIM, one of the civil society organizations in this room – that has used funds from confiscated assets to hire and train victims of crime. These employees are now taking care of their families, and contributing to the tax base that runs public services in Albania – creating a restorative circle.
Of course, good work is never finished, and we cannot rest easy on our previous successes. I encourage the government to ensure that the funds it directs to social projects are sustainable, with a view to multiplying these successes throughout the country. Through the efforts of all the rule-of-law and civil society stakeholders, Albania’s successes in this area can serve as a model for the region.
So I commend you all for participating today; I applaud your strong commitment to improving the asset seizure regime, combatting organized crime, and improving the rule of law and good governance in Albania. You are making an investment of your time and energy in a brighter future for your country. And I laud the OSCE for carrying on this important work in the face of the challenges that COVID brings, and for bringing a vital regional approach to such an important issue.
The U.S. government stands by the people of Albania in your fight against organized crime and corruption. We will continue to work directly with you, your government and civil society, and through invaluable partners like the OSCE, to face down this criminal threat together and ensure the good governance and healthy rule of law that your country deserves.