The European Commission suspended Albanian agriculture funds due to corruption suspicions, the EU Delegation in Albania told reporters.
Albanian media had earlier reported that the funds had been suspended, referring to Albanian government sources.
“The European Commission has informed the Government of Albania that it has undertaken preventive measures based on preliminary information provided by the European Anti-Fraud Office [OLAF], following an investigation over corruption allegations during the implementation of IPARD II [programme],” the Delegation told reporters.
“As a preventive measure aimed to protect the financial interests of the European Union, the European Commission has interrupted temporary disbursements to the Albanian authorities for expenses incurred as part of IPARD II programme,” it continued.
The Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) includes support for IPA rural development programmes (IPARD), and aims to help EU candidate countries develop their respective agricultural industries.
The current IPARD III programme had originally earmarked some 112 million euros for Albania out of a total budget of close to one billion for the five EU candidate countries. Targets for the fund included more than 2,100 jobs created, and more than 260 producer organisations supported in Albania.
Corruption in Albania is widespread. The Special Prosecution Office was this week approved to arrest Arben Ahmetaj, former Deputy Prime Minister and highest ranking official to face corruption charges in more than three decades.
Last year, environmental organisations sued Albanian authorities for control of the contract for the ongoing construction of Vlora airport, arguing the building work threatened vital wetlands and biodiverse areas in violation of national laws.
“By continuing with the development plans, the Albanian authorities are violating national laws and international conventions, bypassing procedures, and rejecting the opposing remarks of international institutions,” activists said.
Activists argued that the Vjosa-Narta Protected Area is one of the most important ecological ecosystems remaining in Albania. Private companies invested some 104 million euros in the project, while taxpayers stand to pay 138 million, or 40 percent of the cost of construction, if the project fails.
The European Commission said the Anti-Fraud Office investigation into the Albanian agriculture funds is ongoing, and refused to comment on the possible results of the investigation.
“When OLAF delivers the final report, the European Commission will inform Albanian authorities and, based on the report conclusions, will undertake any necessary measures to protect the financial interests of the European Union,” the European Commission said.
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