As part of Albania’s judicial reform process, a special institution seeks to fight organized crime and corruption in the country.

In this exclusive interview, we speak with Arben Kraja, Chief Special Prosecutor of the Special Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Structure (SPAK), a key body in Albania’s fight against organized crime and corruption.

What are some of the new elements that SPAK is bringing to the fight against organized crime and corruption in Albania?
SPAK is a new structure, built as part of the process of judicial reform in Albania. This is the first time in Albania’s history that there has been a structure dedicated to fighting both high-level corruption and organized crime, giving these two elements special attention and considering their fight a priority. SPAK started its activities in December 2019 and is still growing. It is in charge of investigating and giving verdicts on high-level cases of corruption, organized crime and terrorism.

One of the most important new elements of this structure is its independence; none of its prosecutors are appointed by parliament or any politically influenced body. SPAK prosecutors are appointed by the High Prosecutorial Council, and we report to the Council and the parliament. We also have a high level of independence when it comes to our budget. We present our operational budget to the finance ministry and, in case they do not agree with it, we can make our case in parliament. Furthermore, investigators of the National Bureau of Investigation, which serve as judicial police of the structure, are appointed by SPAK prosecutors and are totally independent of other structures. SPAK also has its own first instance and appeals court. All of these elements create a good basis for us to work and do our best in the fight against organized crime and corruption, in an independent way, free from political and other influences.

What are the main challenges that Albania faces today with regards to organized crime?
Organized criminal groups are increasing their activities in Albania as in other places, not least to take advantage of the opportunities provided by globalization. Albanian criminal groups are not only active in this country, but also in Western Europe and Latin America. As a result, the challenges for us are not small.

In terms of its geographical position, Albania is a transit country at the crossroads between East and West. In terms of criminality, we see groups from Albania operating in several directions. First, in the export of cannabis produced in the country, which is mainly heading to Italy and other parts of the EU. Increasingly, we are also seeing Albanians travelling to Latin American countries where cocaine is produced. This cocaine is later transported to Albania, Greece and other European countries. Also important is Albanian engagement with heroin smuggling.

At the same time, we have to overcome a bad legacy from when impunity was widespread. We have to admit that, in the past, in Albania people were clearly involved in organized crime or corruption but were not punished. This created a domino effect, because if one person is not punished, dozens or even hundreds of others start to engage in the same criminal activity or corruption without much fear. A major challenge in the country is corruption and the impunity of high-level officials in terms of their abuse of public procurement, administration of state properties and the way in which they exercise their public functions.

Another big challenge is the fight against the assets created by organized crime and corruption. All these assets have a negative effect on the overall economy, the free and fair market. Furthermore, some of these assets are used by criminal groups to finance their operations and increase their activities, as well as to corrupt officials, creating a never-ending cycle of criminality. Breaking this circle is of paramount importance.

You mentioned the growing presence of Albanian criminal groups abroad, mainly in Western Europe but also in Latin America. What are you doing in this regard?
This is a concern and our priority is to crack down on their activities in these countries. This is because no matter where crime is happening, it is dangerous for all countries, although we are affected in different ways. In our case, the products and consequences of this criminal activity abroad come to Albania. For example, some of the money generated abroad is laundered into the Albanian economy. There are also cases when conflicts related to drug deals in other countries result in murders in Albania. We cannot just sit back and deny responsibility. Instead, we must work together and do our best to crack down on these activities. Indeed, when working on these cases, we came to the realization that this fight could not be handled alone, but only in close collaboration with our counterparts. Therefore, setting up regular contacts with our partners has been a top priority since day one.

How do you cooperate with regional and international partners?
We have created a network of contacts with police liaison officers and prosecution experts from different countries who are based in Albania. We are constantly exchanging information with them. Furthermore, we have signed several collaboration agreements, the first one being with Italy just two months after we started work. Since then, we have signed agree­ments with the special prosecution offices in North Macedonia and Kosovo and we are in discussions to conclude agreements with our counterparts in Montenegro and Romania.

We also have an agreement with the federal prosecution of Belgium, given the fact that Albanian criminal groups are active in the Benelux countries. In addition, we have established contact with Eurojust, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation. Currently, we have a prosecutor who represents us there, which is an important achievement. Since Albania is not part of the EU, we face certain limitations, but this has not prevented us from being part of joint investigation teams coordinated by this agency.

We also have daily contact with EUROPOL representatives in Albania, and hope to soon conclude an official agreement with this agency. All of this has been done in a really short period of time. Because of increased international cooperation, we have created an office within the prosecution service that deals with international relationships, focusing on maintaining contacts with counterparts and exchanging information.

What is crucial is to win the trust of our partners and demonstrate that we are a professional, accurate and serious institution. I want to emphasize that trust is vital. In the past, for several reasons, there was little trust in Albanian justice institutions. We are trying to build that trust step by step. Let me give you one example. Some time ago, the German authorities conducted a delicate joint investigation related to organized crime together with an Albanian counterpart. Unfortunately, a high representative of the Albanian State Police leaked investigative secrets received from the German authorities. After receiving a request from Germany to find the culprit, we were able to quickly identify the person who leaked the information. This person is now facing criminal charges. This shows the importance that we attach not only to having preventive mechanisms in place, but also to bringing to justice those who abuse their functions.

I think the fact that we are receiving more requests for information from foreign counterparts is a reflection of growing trust. Last year, the number of requests for information from abroad doubled in comparison to before SPAK’s establishment in 2019. Of course, this creates more work for us, but we have also been able to double the number of responses that we have sent to our counterparts. We have put a priority on these requests and reply to them as quickly as possible. 

What could be done to strengthen cooperation among prosecutors in the region and internationally?
Criminal groups are faster at making deals than inter-governmental institutions, which have to deal with bureaucracies and follow procedures in order to initiate collaboration. Therefore, it is important to eliminate bureaucratic barriers and collaborate more effectively with our counterparts.

It is also very important to have more joint investigation teams both with EU countries and those from south- eastern Europe. Such teams are a key component of the fight against transnational organized crime. For example, we worked well with Italian colleagues to take down a criminal network that had been active in both Italy and Albania.1 Of course, we should increase our capacity with additional prosecutors and further consolidate our prosecution.

What mandate and tools do you have at your disposal to address the economic and financial aspects of organized crime?
The identification, seizure and confiscation of assets are without a doubt a priority of SPAK in all cases when organized crime and corruption investigations lead us to the conclusion that assets have been generated from illicit activity. The anti-mafia law that Albania has in place also helps us a lot in dealing with the financial part of our criminal investigations.

It is worth emphasizing that before the creation of SPAK, there was not much attention to the financial and economic aspects of organized crime. But this year alone, we have prosecuted 10 to 15 people for money laundering, on top of organized crime charges. For the first time, there have been final convictions from the courts on these charges. Of course, these kinds of investigations are complex and need time, but we consider them of high importance and, as a result, we are committed to doing our job.

What are some of the challenges that SPAK is facing in investigating high profile corruption cases? Do you feel political pressure?
We are under the pressure of public opinion, which is pushing us to punish high-ranking officials who have abused their power. But often there is a mismatch between what the public wants and what we are able to do. After all, whatever the perception may be, you must have proof in order to file charges and successfully defend your evidence in court. That said, investigating high-level officials in cases of abuse of office is at the core of our mission.

There are different kinds of pressure. If you listen every day to what is said in the media and debates on TV shows about what we should or shouldn’t be doing, we feel some pressure. But as a team, we have decided not to be influenced by external pressure and to carry on with our work. On the other hand, there are physical threats, since our prosecutors investigate dangerous criminal networks. Some of them are under protection. But this is our job.


  1. 38 Albanians arrested in Italian-led drug trafficking probe, AP News, 2 July 2021,

  2. Law No. 95/2016 ‘On the organization and functioning of institutions for combating corruption and organized crime’ and Law 98/2016 ‘On the organization of the judicial power in the Republic of Albania’. 

  3. Specialized courts decide on corruption, organized crime and terrorism cases, as well as criminal charges against high profile officials brought by the SPO (Article 135, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of Albania). The Anti-corruption and Organized Crime Specialized Court of first instance shall be composed of at least 16 judges; the Anti-corruption and Organized Crime Specialized Court of appeal shall be composed of at least 11 judges. (Article 15 of Law 98/2016 ‘On the organization of the judicial power in the Republic of Albania’). 

  4. Out of 60 approved NBI investigator positions, by August 2021, only 28 had been appointed after meeting the conditions stipulated in the SPAK law. Another call has been issued for 32 others who will most likely start in December 2021. 

  5. The SPO shall consist of a minimum of 10 prosecutors, who shall be appointed by the High Prosecutorial Council for a 9-year term, without the right of re-appointment (Article 148/dh, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of Albania) and Law 98/2016 ‘On the organization of the judicial power in the Republic of Albania’. As of September 2021, 15 special prosecutors have been appointed. 

  6. According to Article 75/a of the Criminal Code of Procedure, the Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Specialized Court shall decide on: a) the crimes provided for by Articles 244, 244/a, 245, 245/1, 257, 258, 259, 259/a, 260, 312, 319, 319/a,319/b, 319/c, 319/ç, 319/d, 319/dh and 319/e; b) any crime committed by a structured criminal group, criminal organization, terrorist organization and armed gang pursuant to the provisions of the Code; c) criminal charges against the President of the Republic, Speaker of Parliament, Prime Minister, member of the Council of Ministers, judge of the Constitutional Court and the High Court, General Prosecutor, High Justice Inspector, Mayor, member of parliament, deputy minister, member of the High Judicial Council and High Prosecutorial Council and directors of independent and central institutions defined in the Constitution or in law; d) criminal charges against the above-mentioned former officials, when the offence was committed on duty.