02.05.2000$2.8m in gold coins stolen from treasury
TIRANA - Interior Ministry said on Monday it arrested another policeman after the discovery that an amount of gold coins had been missing from the state gold reserves near Tirana.
The Albanian government announced on Sunday that it had discovered that gold coins worth some 2.8 million dollars (three million euros) had been stolen from the state's treasury depots in the suburbs of the capital Tirana during the 1997 riots.
But opposition Democratic Party said on Monday it had proff that the gold coins were stolen on January, a few weeks earlier than the prosecution bodies ordered an account into the reserves.
The government had denied the theft until last week, when accounting figures showed the difference.
Prime Minister Ilir Meta alerted the major international financial institutions to the theft late on Saturday, according to a government communiqué released on Sunday. Meta told the institutions that Tirana would do everything necessary to identify and punish the thieves, the statement said.
"Prime Minister Ilir Meta, based on information received, ordered the interior ministry to make an inventory of the state's gold reserves kept in Krraba on March 8 and March 31," it said in a statement." That led to the conclusion that gold coins worth $2.8m were missing from the depots."
The treasury vault targeted by thieves in 1997 is located in Krraba, some 40 kilometres (26 miles) south-east of the capital Tirana.
The disappearance of the gold coins was noticed in March during a check ordered by Meta, the statement said.
Tirana public prosecutors ordered the arrest of three army officers who ran the security services at the Krraba vault in 1997 and who are suspected of being involved in the theft.
In early 1997, Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries, slipped into a state of anarchy after the collapse of several pyramid savings schemes in which tens of thousands had invested their life savings.
In January, a lock on one of the massive concrete doors in a tunnel where gold deposits are kept was found to be damaged but the authorities denied it was a case of theft and blamed a landslide instead.
The newspaper Koha Jone has said the government was forced to admit the theft after the prosecutor's office ordered the arrest two days ago of three officers in charge of guarding the treasury on suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of the coins.
The stolen gold had been loaded in a secret vault under the code-name "River". This structure, being classified as of "special importance", had been adopted for the purpose in 1993, when the state treasury was transferred in Krraba from the warehouses of Skrapar in southern Albania. Since 1997 regular and periodic checks on a three-monthly basis should, supposedly, have been conducted officially in order for the state to keep in touch with what was contained in its treasury. But something this failed to happen. Furthermore, no checks were even carried out when the treasury was rumoured to have been attacked during the 1997 riots.
The case is defined as "criminal case number one" for the Prosecutors' Office investigating group, spokesmen of this office said.
Ltn.Col. Arjan Bishqemi is one of the four arrested, suspected of being involved in the theft. Bishqemi had been on charge of treasury security from early 1996 up to the moment of his detention.