Panama Papers: The tentacles of tax evasion reach Albania

Article published on April 28, 2016
Article published on April 28, 2016

The archive of 11.5 million documents and 2.6 terabytes of data leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed just how wealthy public figures around the world can be. The offshore service provider is thought to be the 5th largest in the world. The scandal caused global debate and protests in several countries causing huge disappointment among the public towards their chosen elites.

It’s a long way from Panama to a small Balkan country such as Albania, but it still turns out to be involved – even in a small way – in the scandal. An interactive map created by Esri UK points to two companies, three beneficiaries and 22 shareholders that are connected to the leak. This enables us to take a closer look at the ornate multinational lattice of connections – and to find out where the big centres of this global offshore industry are.

Tax havens' tentacles extend to the Balkans

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz contributed to revealing a financial scandal related to Albania. It was reported that an Israeli lawyer, named Assaf Halkin, registered four companies through Mossack Fonseca. He founded GFI Technologies, registered in May 2013 in the island of Anguilla. Halkin and another Albanian citizen, named Ismail Mulleti (in the leaks referred to as "Ismail Mulati") were co-owners of this company.

After a deep investigation it was revealed that a Canadian company, the so-called Global Fluids International S.A, owned GFI Technologies – also co-owned by Mulleti. GFI Albania is a small branch of this company that had won some of the most controversial and lucrative fuel-marking concessionaries licensed in 2013. A 10-year contract is worth 150 million euros.

Though the story does not end there. It seems that another company was also involved, the so-called "Petroleum Consulting Partners" that was part of a consortium along with the GFI. The concessionary was established as an offshore company. Later on, GFI disappeared leaving behind a small number of shares and selling the company to "Petroleum Consulting Partners" a typical maneuver of offshore companies that disappeared without a trace.

Podesta Group is a famous lobbying company based in Washington D.C. that was contracted by the pre-2013 Albanian Government on several occasions. The company can be found in the Panama Papers due to their implication in offshore funds owned by Russian companies such as Sberbank. Since Podesta lobbies both the Albanian Government and Sberbank, it tried to also take on the US Government. The involvement of the Podesta Group in Albanian public relations did not pass without political debate in the Balkan country.

The last but not least, the Miami Herald has reported that 22-year-old Efraim Diveroli had won hundreds of millions of USD by being involved in an illegal military ammunitions business operating from China to Albania and then on to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 a huge explosion occured in the Albanian ammunitions camp, often referred to as the Gërdec tragedy – 26 people died and many more were injured.

Diveroli and his company appear in the Panama Papers, and he had been investigated in Albania for international arms trafficking. A new movie, War Dogs, to be released this summer, covers the topic of Diveroli and his partner David Packouz, who won a 300 million dollar contract from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan.

The Three-Day Wonder

So far, these are the only indications that the tentacles of these fiscal havens have reached Albania. Albanian institutions have reacted to this data and investigations have already begun. Both official institutions and public opinion in Albania are awaiting the results of these investigations to see how much the Albanian economy will be affected by the Panama earthquake. However, since no new names have emerged over the last few days, the case is riddled with silent tension.

The corruption issue in Albania is rather disturbing, because it sets a precedent for any violations of the country’s laws relating to fiscal evasion. Let’s see how justice will be served to punish those who would like to manipulate and escape it.

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This article is part of our East Side Stories project. Through fighting the most common clichés levelled at Southern and Eastern Europe, it aims to keep the European idea alive by raising awareness, creating dialogue, exchanging ideas and reporting beyond the mainstream media.