A former opposition MP who headed Albania’s largest public corporation failed to disclose an offshore entity as required by law, Balkan Insight can reveal./
By Altin Raxhimi and Besar Likmeta/
A middle-class neighborhood in the former German capital of Bonn is not a place one might readily have associated with Andis Harasani back in 2007, nor an 8,000-mile jump east to Singapore.
To the public, he was a new Socialist MP, victor of a bruising poll in a dirt-poor part of northern Tirana that was a stronghold of the Democratic Party.
But data picked from a huge stash of leaked emails, database entries and documents show that 41-year-old Harasani, who left parliament barely a year short of his term in September, hopped through those addresses to register a company 5,000 miles west, in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.
According to documents that Balkan Insight uncovered in the trove, in November 2007 Harasani registered a company in the Virgin Islands, White Ebony Holdings Ltd, in which he is listed as director and shareholder.
The database entry identifies Singapore, another tax haven, as the country where the company was first registered, and mentions as its business address an apartment buildingin Franzstrasse in Bonn. Harasani’s sister is a journalist with Radio Deutsche Welle in Bonn, and she resides at the Franzstrasse address.
Twice elected to parliament in 2005 and 2009, from September 2002 to July 2005 Harasani chaired the electricity utility, KESH, Albania’s biggest public company, with half-a-billion euro in sales.
In September 2012, he resigned his parliamentary seat and moved to New York to run a company called Phoenix Network LLC, in which he is a partner and chief operating officer, according to his profile on social networks.
In an interview for the Tirana weekly Java in November, Harasani declared that he was working to build up a construction company in New York, operating in the Manhattan area.
Albanian law obliges public officials to declare all businesses and sources of income as part of efforts to build transparency in politics, reduce corruption and avoid conflicts of interest.
But records from the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets, HIDAA, show that Harasani failed to disclose the offshore company, White Ebony Holdings, which he registered nearly six years ago.
Contacted by Balkan Insight to respond to the allegations that he had omitted to declare his business operations,Harasani did not reply.
The database entry that links Harasani to White Ebony Holdings and identifies him as a shareholder of the company is part of nearly 2 million emails and internal records, mainly from the offshore haven of the British Virgin Islands, leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ.
Investigations by the ICIJ with its partners in the international media have exposed the identities of thousands of wealthy company holders across the world.
The ICIJ is expected soon to release some company ownership entries, but, owing to technical, legal and ethical issues, it will not publish the raw data in full for the time being.
Apart from Harasani, the documents contain founding documents, payment certificates, and email correspondence regarding a company called Floryien Shipping and Trading Corp, owned by Gazmir Tahiri, director of Albania’s Naval Administration.
In a telephone interview from his office in the port of Durres, Tahiri said he had shut down Floryien nearly six years ago. “I lived and worked in Turkey for 16 years and when I relocated back to Albania I closed the company,” he said.
Tahiri explained that he had set up the offshore company through a law firm in Turkey. Records show he had paid maintenance dues until 2009, before being hired to head the Naval Administration.
With a perception of corruption among the highest in Europe, according to Transparency International, Albania is no stranger to allegations of money laundering in offshore tax entities.
Socialist MP Taulant Balla in 2011 accused Genc Pollo, the Minister of Technology, of stashing a €1.2 million bribe from an internet provider in Cyprus. Pollo denied wrongdoing and slapped Balla with a defamation lawsuit.
Nearly a year later Pollo withdrew the lawsuit, which at the time was still being heard in Tirana’s district court.
A Washington-based advocacy group, Global Financial Integrity, claimed last December that more than $1.3 billion (€983 million) were spirited out of Albania to tax havens from 2005-2010.
Writer and political commentator Fatos Lubonja, who spent 17 years in Communist prison camps, said he was not hopeful that the latest revelations would prompt a drive for greater transparency.
“Scandals raise no dust here. The country has no investigative journalism, no independent judiciary,” he said.
“Society is acquiescent and partaking in a corrupt system much the same way that it was acquiescent and partaking in the Stalinist dictatorship,” he added.(Balkan Insght)