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2008 Press Releases

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador John L. Withers at the Workshop on the Coordination of Institutions Against Money Laundering Tirana Prosecutor’s Office

October 16, 2008

Good morning. It is a great honor to be here today in the Tirana District Prosecutor’s Office and to be sharing this podium with Prosecutor General Ina Rama and Professor Jimmy Gurule.

It is also always a pleasure for me to be with Cindy Eldridge. I want to thank her and OPDAT for their role in arranging this important workshop.

This workshop is not only important, but it is also great opportunity. By bringing together the expertise that we have represented in this room; by bringing together prosecutors, judicial police, FIU inspectors, and bank compliance officers, we have brought together the team that we need to fight a very important scourge. That scourge is money laundering and it is the backbone of organized crime, of corruption, and of terrorism. These are crimes that affect not only Albania, but the entire world.

I commend you and I congratulate you for being the soldiers in this very important war. I wish you great success.

We are particularly fortunate to have a wonderful speaker here. Professor Gurule, a former federal prosecutor, is currently law professor at Notre Dame Law School, where he teaches courses on criminal law, white collar crime, international criminal law, and the law on terrorism.

His resume is extensive. But let me just say that from 2001 to 2003 he was the top Treasury law enforcement official in the U.S. Government. In his other distinguished capacities, he helped develop the Treasury Department’s global strategy against terrorist financing and the National Money Laundering Strategy for the U.S. Government.  As the chief oversight official for FinCEN, the U.S. equivalent to Albania’s Financial Intelligence Unit, Professor Gurule is uniquely qualified to discuss the investigation and prosecution of money laundering cases.

We are all very fortunate that a man of his accomplishment and distinction would come here to share his insights and wisdom with us.

Before I conclude, I would like to say just a few words about other people who are participating in this workshop today.

I would like to begin by expressing my congratulations and admiration for Prosecutor General Ina Rama. In the past, Ms. Rama has been compared to the fictional character Silvia Conti. As you know, Ms. Conti was dedicated and determined to fight crime no matter what was thrown against her, no matter the difficulty of the circumstances, or the opposition against her. That comparison is apt but it does not go far enough. That is because the character of Silvia Conti was fictional and the tasks that Ms. Rama has taken on are very real.

Her responsibilities are not only to investigate some of the most difficult and controversial cases that Albania has known, but in a larger and more profound sense, to make a profound contribution to the building of Albanian democracy through defending the independence of her institution and of the judiciary in general against political pressure and political attacks. It does not take any great wisdom on my part to predict that when the history Albanian democracy is written, there will be a special chapter in it for people like Ina Rama.

I would like also to say a few words about the prosecutors, the law enforcement officers, and the different others professions and institutions that are represented in the audience.

Let me tell you a little story. In the early history of the United States, when slaves who were kept in bondage in southern plantations sought their freedom, they had no compasses, no maps. Most of them could not even read. Between them and freedom in the north lay swamps, rivers, mountains and many other obstacles. What these slaves had was their determination to be free and one piece of knowledge. That piece of knowledge was that there was a star, the North Star. And as long as they followed that star, they were on the path to freedom.

All of you in this room have a North Star. That is the law. As long as you follow the law, no matter what criticism you receive, no matter what pressures you come under, you, too, will achieve your ultimate objective.

Let me give a couple of quick examples of the types of things that people in this room have contributed to. One example is the Joint Investigative Unit. Many of you in this room may not realize that the JIU has recently been recognized by 2 international organizations for its outstanding work. 

In its annual publication “Nations in Transit,” the nonprofit organization Freedom House noted that corruption continues to be a pervasive problem in Albania, but specifically singled out the JIU as an effective mechanism for fighting corruption.

More recently, “Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perception Index” ranked Albania 85th, a jump of 20 places from its previous global rank of 105th.  The report noted that Albania remains a very corrupt country, but gave credit where credit is due: to the prosecutors and judicial police officers in this room. I quote from the report, “An official task force created to fight corruption and economic crime has increased the number of officials prosecuted and sentenced for corruption, also building confidence among the public that corruption can be punished in Albania.”

Let me conclude with a few comments about recent developments in Albania. As you all are very well aware, the parliament is considering opening an inquiry into the operation of prosecutors and the Prosecutor General here in Albania. The Government has also called for some sort of international inspection in this area, which I frankly find baffling.

I find all of this very confusing and quite troubling. Last October, shortly after I arrived, parliament opened an inquiry into the previous Prosecutor General. Now, it apparently intends to do so against the present Prosecutor General. Yes, parliament has the right to open inquiries, but is this something that the Albanian parliament does every October?

I frankly see no legitimate reason for the government or the parliament to make these moves. I urge both the government and the parliament to reconsider these ill-considered actions, which appear to intrude on the independence of an institution that needs to be independent. My advice, and that of my government, is to let the prosecutors do their job as the independent actors that they are.

Let me congratulate you on the opportunity that is before you today. Let me wish you every success and let me congratulate you for the hard work and the courage that you show every day in your work and in your actions.

I thank you for your attention.