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Politike

How the EU money for agriculture ended up with people with political and criminal connections, 12 beneficiaries under investigation by justice, this is how tens of millions of euros were "swallowed", details of the scandal are revealed

How the EU money for agriculture ended up with people with political and

Preng Doda started farming in 1985, when Albania was still a communist state, but it was only ten years ago that he started producing wine. Now 69 years old, Doda cultivates grapes on two hectares of land in the village of Tenë, part of the mountainous north of Albania. He built a winery from his savings and bought or borrowed equipment used to make the wine. The climate is colder than in the south, but Doda is persistent and the vines bear fruit. It was this same persistence that helped Doda secure funding in 2022 from the European Union to upgrade his winery and production equipment. "I prepared the project with some specialists", he said. "The criteria were very difficult to meet." As a candidate country for EU membership, Albania qualifies for tens of millions of euros per year in grants from the bloc's Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance in Rural Development, IPARD. But like its neighbors and fellow membership candidates, Montenegro and North Macedonia, Albania is struggling to spend the grants offered within the EU's deadline. Doda's success is far from the norm. In fact, small farmers often struggle with paperwork and finding the capital they need to raise to qualify. Corruption is also a problem.

How the EU money for agriculture ended up with people with political and

Unused funds are returned

Some farmers with whom "BIRN" spoke said that they were not aware that they could qualify for EU grants. In western Albania, a veteran farmer who asked to be identified only by his first name, Kasemi, said he needed support from the state in production and sales, but had not received any information about the IPARD program. "In Albania, the farmer's time is busy and he is busy all day", Kasemi said. "There is no time for a farmer to be on the phone or in front of the TV. So I didn't get any information. It is not that there was any campaign in the village to introduce us to this project. At least not in our village.” In Kocani, in eastern North Macedonia, Bozhidari, who also asked to be identified only by his first name, said he had never applied for EU funds. "I didn't have accurate information, so I had no idea that I could apply for these grants," he told BIRN. When he took a look at it, he said he had the impression that it "required a lot of documentation" and that it was difficult to understand. In Montenegro, which is highly dependent on imports and needs large agricultural investments, data from the Ministry of Agriculture show that 80 percent of IPARD funds go to companies rather than small farmers, despite the fact that companies such constitute only two percent of the total number of registered farms. Under the IPARD II programme, Montenegro was entitled to a funding of 52 million euros between 2014 and 2024, 80 percent of this funding from the EU. By the end of 2023, around €35 ??million had been distributed to farmers, according to government figures, prompting the European Commission – the EU's executive arm – to extend the duration of the project until the end of 2024. The country has already returned 1.7 million euros of unused funds in 2021 and 2022.

How the EU money for agriculture ended up with people with political and

EU reaction

Ministria e Bujqësisë fajësoi praktikën mes furnitorëve për rritjen e çmimit të makinerive dhe pajisjeve menjëherë përpara ose gjatë çdo thirrjeje publike për aplikime, që do të thotë se fermerët duhet ta paguajnë diferencën nga xhepat e tyre. Por duke folur për BIRN në tetor të vitit të kaluar, delegacioni i BE-së në Mal të Zi tha se dy thirrjet e fundit publike për aplikime kishin shfaqur interes në rritje, me një numër të lartë aplikimesh me cilësi më të mirë. “Fermerët dhe agrobizneset tani po aplikojnë me plane biznesi të zhvilluara më mirë”, tha delegacioni. “Numri i aplikimeve të pakompletuara me dokumentacion të mangët, një problem i madh, sidomos në thirrjet e para të programit, tashmë ka rënë.” Sipas këstit të ardhshëm të programit, IPARD III, do të vihen në dispozicion edhe më shumë para – 60 për qind më shumë se në IPARD II. “Procesi i mësimit në nivele të ndryshme (prodhues, përpunues, furnitorë, administratë kombëtare) ka marrë pak kohë, por fushatat e shumta informuese të organizuara nga Ministria e Bujqësisë në të gjithë vendin tani kanë dhënë rezultat”, tha delegacioni.

Raporti

Në një raport të publikuar nga Komisioni Evropian në korrik 2023, parregullsitë IPARD të raportuara nga Shqipëria përbënin pjesën më të madhe të parave të përfshira (33 milionë euro nga 39 milionë euro). “Kjo ishte kryesisht për shkak të katër parregullsive që së bashku përbëjnë rreth 31 milionë euro”, tha Komisioni. “Parregullsi të tjera përfshinin shuma shumë më të ulëta, kryesisht nën 100,000 euro, në disa raste nën 10,000 euro.” Afrim Krasniqi, drejtor i Institutit të Studimeve Politike në Tiranë, tha se të gjithë donatorët ndërkombëtarë presin një “humbje parash” gjatë një periudhe donacioni, për shkak të korrupsionit, shpenzimeve të pa llogaritura të burimeve njerëzore, zhvillimeve politike, etj. “Kur ky kufi (i humbjeve të pritshme) tejkalohet, pra kalohet vija e kuqe, BE-ja shqetësohet dhe ndërhyn në nivele të tjera hetimi”, tha ai. Fondet IPARD II për Shqipërinë janë një shembull i mirë i ndërhyrjes së BE-së kur fondet keqpërdoren, tha ai.

12 përfitues nën hetim nga drejtësia

Among the hundreds of beneficiaries of IPARD in Albania are a number known for political and criminal connections. Among them is Elvis Roshi, a former politician, whose mandate as mayor of Kavaja was terminated after the discovery of his criminal records, including a conviction for rape in Italy. In 2018, Roshi was sentenced to seven months and 15 days in prison for concealing his criminal record on a declaration form for public office, although he ultimately avoided prison. After leading Kavaja between 2011 and 2016, Roshi founded the agritourism company Kavaljon and, despite having limited experience in agriculture, secured IPARD grants twice. According to the official data of the Albanian Agency for Agriculture and Rural Development, AZHBR, in 2021, Kavaljon won a contract worth 8.5 million lek or about 83,300 euros, for a citrus and sage plantation. But the company had to return an initial installment of 41,676 euros due to breach of contract. In the same year, in a second application under the name Rikonstruksion Bujtine, Roshi received an IPARD II grant of 21.8 million lek or 214 thousand euros. Roshi was not the only beneficiary who was eventually asked to repay the funds. According to the data of AZHBR, 73 grant recipients were asked to return the money they received. Therefore, 12 legal proceedings were initiated within the framework of IPARD II. The EU delegation said that, despite some progress, corruption remains a serious concern in Albania. "In general, corruption is widespread in many areas of public life and business, and preventive measures continue to have limited impact, especially in vulnerable sectors," the delegation said. "These investments (by IPARD beneficiaries) were seen by the public as misused", said Krasniqi. "The news about them had no impact, did not attract attention. Only when they were addressed by the EU's anti-corruption structures was there a reaction." Zef Preçi, head of the independent Albanian Center for Economic Research, agreed, telling BIRN that the implementation of the IPARD project in Albania was an example of misgovernance and the interference of patronage and corrupt interests in the agricultural sector. Most of the money went to self-proclaimed farmers with very little farming experience. "Regardless of the source of funding, whether from the state budget, loans from international financial institutions or donations, corruption has the same consequences in the country," he said. "The monopolization of decision-making in the distribution of funds has deformed the purpose of the project, which is to support investments in the agro-food industry and rural areas, and has violated the principles established for the use of funds."

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