Albanian Daily News
Controversial EU customs mission chief ends stay

Feb 01, 2000

TIRANA - The head of the European Union’s Customs Assistance Mission in Albania, Italian Natalina Cea, left her position after three years of trying to assist the customs here curb corruption, daily Gazeta Shqiptare said.

"Yes, I am leaving and I have different reasons to do this," the 40-year-old woman from Molise in Southern Italy briefly told Italian newsagency ANSA on Friday.

But in major Italian dailies, Cea mentioned the corruption here and her secluded life from constant menaces. She quit at a last menace she received on the phone.

"A voice speaking bad Italian told me to stop attacking honest ministers," she said, mentioning recent complaints of corruption she had towards Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli. "He mentioned he knew what my address in Rome was. He even knew where my close family was living."

Cea, who was at times feared by the political class and entered through many controversies because of her fight against corruption in the customs office, had a farewell meeting with Prime Minister Ilir Meta and then left immediately for Rinas International Airport, her last exit from the country.

She said that the recent expulsion of public economy minister Zef Preci was because Preci refused to award the license to two of the three fuel distributing companies Angjeli controlled.

According to a recent survey, popular perception targets the customs as the most corrupt segment of the administration.

Many believe that the political class has strong ties with aggressive organized groups that control the fuels and excise good market.

"The size of corruption here is alarming," she had said in an earlier interview. "My only warn to the authorities in Kosovo would be not to slip towards the Albanian syndrome."

Cea was brought into the country early in 1997, when the government agreed to accept assistance from the EU to increase the shrinking customs revenues.

She had seen some success, like the seizure in 1998 of the ship Lucky Mar, which had a Lebanese flag. The ship was carrying cigarettes worth millions of dollars apparently directed for the Montenegrin black market. It was sold in Albanian government auctions.

In 1997, Cea became a target of the pro-government press because of the involvement of the ruling politicians of the time in the organized smuggling.

Last year, she said she received bullet threats in the envelope twice, what showed the aggressiveness of the mafia that controls the country’s customs.

But customs officials said they wanted the cooperation with EU’s CAM to continue.

"The Albanian authorities are determined to continue the cooperation with CAM-Albania even after Cea leaves," said Vasil Pilo, deputy director of the General Customs Department.

The aid consists on raising anti-smuggling investigation groups, aid to cover the customs deficit, the control in the customs regime and retributions, Pilo said.