Albania’s largest private hospital acquires key Greek rival

Albania’s largest private hospital acquires key Greek rival

TIRANA, Aug. 24 – Albania’s largest private hospital has consolidated its position in the Albanian private healthcare system by fully acquiring its key rival. Greece-based Hygeia Group says it has sold its loss-making Albania unit to the American Hospital of

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US-based Albanian organizations divided over museum plans on former notorious labor camp

US-based Albanian organizations divided over museum plans on former notorious labor camp

TIRANA, Aug. 23 – Albania’s plans to turn an abandoned forced labor camp where hundreds of Albanians considered enemies of the former communist regime are believed to have been killed in the late 1940s and early 1950s into a memorial

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Turkey gov’t-owned foundation makes first Albania acquisition to rival Gulen-linked schools

Turkey gov’t-owned foundation makes first Albania acquisition to rival Gulen-linked schools

TIRANA, Aug. 20 – Turkey’s government-owned Maarif Foundation is now officially present in Albania after taking over one of the largest private-run universities in the country, rivalling a bigger network of schools and universities linked to what the Turkish government

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US-Turkey crisis – possible implications for Albania

US-Turkey crisis – possible implications for Albania

TIRANA, Aug.15 – A potential escalation of the diplomatic crisis between the United States and Turkey triggering an apparent slowdown in one of the world’s fastest growing economies could have implications for the Western Balkans and Albania where Turkey has

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Border conflicts in the Balkans

Border conflicts in the Balkans

By Prof. Dr. Blerim Reka  Almost three decades after Yugoslavia’s dissolution, the new borders of the Balkans are still not fixed and will likely remain so for the next decade. Only a few bilateral demarcation agreements between the former federal

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Iranian-Canadian father, mujahedeen daughter clash over Albania-based MEK

Iranian-Canadian father, mujahedeen daughter clash over Albania-based MEK

TIRANA, Aug. 4 – An Iranian father and daughter have traded accusations against each other over Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, MEK, whom Albania has offered accommodation under a deal with the United States but whose members official Iran has banned

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Editorial: US report on Albania economic climate should serve as a wake up call

Editorial: US report on Albania economic climate should serve as a wake up call

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL If Albania’s government was looking for good news on the economic front, this wasn’t a good week. Despite much touted official numbers showing steady economic growth and lower unemployment, a US report out this week shows what

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President turns down legal changes allegedly easing gambling tax burden

President turns down legal changes allegedly easing gambling tax burden

The following is an updated version of the online article that appeared earlier on Wednesday, Aug.1  TIRANA, Aug. 1 –  Albania’s President has turned down some legal changes to the gambling tax by exercising his suspensive veto, arguing the proposed

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Corruption remains top concern for potential U.S. investors to Albania, report shows

Corruption remains top concern for potential U.S. investors to Albania, report shows

TIRANA, July 31 – The U.S. State Department says Albania continues to remain a difficult place to do business with endemic corruption as the top concern that keeps potential American investors away from the country. In its 2018 investment climate

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Big hotels, restaurants handed 30-day ban for tax evasion

Big hotels, restaurants handed 30-day ban for tax evasion

TIRANA, July 30 – Big Albania seaside hotels and restaurants are facing temporary closure penalties for failing to comply with tax authorities during the peak tourist season as part of a nationwide campaign to tackle widespread tax evasion in the

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 24 – Albania’s largest private hospital has consolidated its position in the Albanian private healthcare system by fully acquiring its key rival.

Greece-based Hygeia Group says it has sold its loss-making Albania unit to the American Hospital of Albania after almost a decade of accumulated debts.

The sale operation comes eight years after Hygeia launched its Tirana hospital, a €60 million initial investment facility offering all kind of medical and surgery services.

The Hygeia Group says the sale was concluded for €1 million, with the buyer having committed to pay off about €30 million in long-term loans that Hygeia Hospital Tirana owed to banks and other Hygeia subsidiaries.

"The Buyer assumes the liabilities of Hygeia Hospital Tirana amounting to 29.5 million euros in total (including the long-term borrowings amounting to approximately 19 million euros, as well as liabilities to Hygeia Group companies, amounting to approximately 2.5 million euros),” Hygeia says in a statement adding that the sale will serve the Athens-based group to reduce its bank borrowings.

Hygeia, which has been operating in the Greek private health sector for about four decades, owned three hospitals in Greece before launching its fourth Tirana hospital in 2010.

Hygeia is the third major Greek business to leave Albania this year after the sale of two Greek bank units earlier this year which is expected to significantly cut the stock of Greek foreign direct investment in the country this year.

The host of about half a million Albanian migrants, Greece has been the top investor in Albania with an investment stock of €1.3 billion in early 2018. Greece is also the traditional second largest partner of Albania, but trade links between the two countries sharply reduced during Greece’s 8-year recession ending in 2016 that saw its economy lose about a quarter of the GDP.

The merger makes the American Hospital in Albania, already leading the private health sector, much stronger.

The American Hospital, owned by a Netherlands-based company and run by an Albanian administrator, already owns six hospital in Tirana, Durres and Fier, Albania’s three largest cities, as well as in Kosovo. The hospital also has a minority stake in a 10-year hemodialysis concession assisting patients with kidney failure in Albania’s main public hospitals until 2026.

Albanians are estimated to spend about €60 million annually in private hospitals and clinics whose number has significantly increased in the past decade.

Albania’s public health sector is perceived as one of the most corrupt and inefficient sectors, with patients often choosing to get treated at private hospitals in the country or go abroad.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 23 – Albania’s plans to turn an abandoned forced labor camp where hundreds of Albanians considered enemies of the former communist regime are believed to have been killed in the late 1940s and early 1950s into a memorial museum in honor of victims of communism has clashed the two main organizations representing Albanians in the United States and around the world.

Joe DioGuardi, a former US congressman of Albanian origin, says he opposes the identification of the southern Albanian town of Tepelena as the “Albanian Auschwitz” and has called for the project to be cancelled or be decided through a local referendum.

DioGuardi, 77, who served as congressman in the late 1980s and visited Albania in 1990 just before the collapse of the decades-long communist regime, is also the founder of the Albanian American Civil League, a Washington-based lobby group whose mission during its three decades of operation has been to fight for human rights and the self-determination of Albanians.

Meanwhile, the Pan Albanian Federation of America, Vatra (Hearth), a New York-based organization that has been lobbying Albania since 1912 when the country declared its independence, says it strongly supports the project to build a museum of communist crimes in Tepelena, where hundreds of children are believed to be among the dead during the camp’s operation from 1949 to 1953 under then Stalinist Albania.

The debate comes as an exhibition has opened at the now abandoned barracks of the former notorious labor camp in Tepelena where a memorial is expected to be set up in honor of the victims. The exhibition featuring documents about the notorious labor camp comes as part of events marking the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.

Earlier this year, comments by an Albanian historian that conditions at the Tepelena labor camp were ‘not so bad’ infuriated the former politically persecuted and camp survivors bringing testimony of inhumane conditions at the site and lack of food and medicines.

DioGuardi says branding Tepelena as the "Albanian Auschwitz" is too much for a place that has much more to take pride in and something that creates a false impression about Albania, unique in Europe during World War II as the only country which had more Jews after the war than it did beforehand, offering protection thanks to its code of honor.

In his letter to Tepelena Mayor Termet Peci, DioGuardi says Tepelena should be identified with Ali Pasha, the 18th century Albanian governor who tried to break away from the Ottoman Empire and British poet Lord Byron and a place where key wars were fought for Albania's freedom.

Tepelena is a town of some 10,000 residents famous for its Ali Pasha castle and Uji i Ftohte (Cold Water) spring tourist attractions.

"I have been shocked and deeply concerned about recent efforts to depict your beautiful and historic town of Tepelena as ‘Albania's Auscwitz.’ This as you know - related to some strange plan to turn the former military barracks in your town into some sort of museum and memorial complex as the ‘extermination camp in Tepelena’” he adds in his letter.

In a later reaction on social media, DioGuardi rather withdraws from the initial stance, saying he is “fully aware of the immense suffering, horrific torture, inhumane conditions, and systematic persecution of the people of Albania during the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha, and supports the idea that memorials should be built on important prison sites in Albania so that the past horrors inflicted on the people by the communist regime after World War II are never forgotten.”

However, DioGuardi maintains that comparing communist repression in Albania with the Holocaust, or any prison or internment site in Albania with Auschwitz, where almost one million Jews were systematically gassed and incinerated, is completely wrong and unacceptable.

“Attaching the ‘Auschwitz’ label to the Tepelena internment camp creates the false impression that Jews were killed in Albania. In reality, Albania is the only nation in the world that saved every Jew who either lived in Albania or sought refuge there during the Nazi Holocaust. This unique and proud history between Albanians and Jews should leave no room for misrepresentation or confusion,” says DioGuardi.

 

 

Vatra supports museum project

US-based Pan Albanian Federation of America, Vatra, which has lobbied the US Congress on Albania and Albanians for more than a century, says it “strongly and unequivocally supports the construction of a museum to identify communist crimes and in remembrance of the innocent victims exterminated and imprisoned at the notorious Tepelena camp.”

“The European Day of Remembrance for victims of Stalinism and Nazism makes us all reflect to see if during almost three decades of Albanian democracy, victims of the totalitarian system have been duly honored, and above all what lesson has our society drawn from the not so distant past,” Vatra says in a statement.

“Those exterminated during the Hoxha dictatorship, the imprisoned and the persecuted remain to this day, the most painful part of the Albanian society's consciousness, on whom not only remembrance, but above all the unstoppable appreciation to suffering and sacrifice would be the best way to heal wounds,” says the association.

“The history of communist dictatorship remains history which has its roots in the executions’ blood, the suffering of long imprisonment terms and suffering of big number of families in internment camps,” it adds.

“If we forget the fact that the communist dictatorship was nothing more than a criminal system against its own citizens, then we will be destined to never cure those painful wounds,” Vatra concludes.

 

Regime victims 

A report by the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes has unveiled the 45-year communist regime that collapsed in the early 1990s imprisoned or interned for politically motivated reasons more than 90,000 people, of whom about 7,000 were killed or died of tortures.

However, almost three decades after the collapse of the communist regime, almost half of Albanians still remain nostalgic about communism

According to a 2016 survey report tracing perceptions on Albania’s communist past, almost half of the population of Albania sees late dictator Enver Hoxha’s role in the history of the country as positive.

Almost half of the people surveyed think that Communism in Albania was “a good idea, poorly implemented.”

 

 Communist legacy

Albania has started to transform some sites associated with the Communist era into sites of remembrance, such as the House of Leaves in Tirana as well as Spaç prison north of the country, building legacy for current and future generations and serving the country’s emerging travel and tourism where sites of the communist past are one of the top attractions among foreign tourists.

A downtown Tirana facility that housed for a short time the notorious Gestapo Nazi secret police during the country’s occupation under WWII and was the interception headquarters of the Sigurimi secret service under communist for more than four decades until the early 1990s, the House of Leaves has been transformed into a museum of secret surveillance, showcasing one of the country’s darkest periods to the younger generations and foreign tourists.

A former prison camp in Shkodra, Albania's largest northern Albanian city known for its anti-communist resistance, has also turned into a museum of communist crimes.

Plans are also underway to build a museum in the notorious former Spaç prison for the politically persecuted under communism which served as a forced labor camp for about two decades until the early 1990s.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 20 - Turkey's government-owned Maarif Foundation is now officially present in Albania after taking over one of the largest private-run universities in the country, rivalling a bigger network of schools and universities linked to what the Turkish government calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, FETO, allegedly run by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen whom it accuses of masterminding a failed July 2016 coup to topple Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Maarif Foundation has fully acquired the University of New York Tirana, Albania’s first private run higher education institution set up in 2002, becoming the sole owner of a higher education institution that also runs a compulsory education unit as well as a high school, according to Albania’s National Business Center.

The Turkish government-owned foundation operating as a state agency for Turkish schools abroad has acquired a 65 percent stake owned by Greek citizen Ilias Foutsis, 25 percent of shares owned by Albanian Mimoza Pashko, the widow of renowned late Albanian economist Gramoz Pashko, and a 10 percent stake that was owned by the University of New York in Prague for an undisclosed amount which local media put at 1.2 billion lek (€9.5 million).

While the University of New York Tirana is not part of what Turkey considers FETO-linked education institutions in Albania and the region, it will provide an education alternative in Albania while eyeing to take over Gulen-linked schools as it has done with more than a hundred Turkish overseas schools.

The Tirana-based university serves some 1,000 students, with a considerable number being Albanian migrants in Greece.

The state-run Maarif foundation was set up in 2016 to take over the administration of overseas schools which Turkey considers linked to what it calls 'FETO.' Turkey says there are 12 FETO-linked education institutions operating in Albania including five religious institutions known as medreses, two universities and a network of compulsory education and high schools. Turkish government officials including President Erdogan have repeatedly called on the Albanian government to shut down the Gulen-linked schools and replace them with Maarif Foundation schools.

Albania has some 16 public higher education institutions and another 25 private-run ones.

Several private universities were closed down in 2014 after they were found to not meet even minimal quality standards and dubbed Ponzi schemes similar to those that robbed Albanians of life savings in 1997.

Albania had gone from having no private universities in the early 2000s to more than 40 private universities and professional colleges by 2015.

Turkey is a major player in Albania, a NATO ally, a strategic partner and one of the top trading partners and foreign investors.

However, the escalation of a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the US and reciprocal sanctions that has seen the Turkish lira lose nearly 40 percent against the US dollar this year, has raised question marks over the future of one of the fastest growing global economies in the past few years.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug.15 – A potential escalation of the diplomatic crisis between the United States and Turkey triggering an apparent slowdown in one of the world’s fastest growing economies could have implications for the Western Balkans and Albania where Turkey has been using its soft power to increase its influence in a region it controlled for centuries under the Ottoman Empire.

Relations between the world’s largest economy and Turkey have been sharply deteriorating in the past few weeks over Turkey’s refusal to extradite a US pastor who is imprisoned there, leading to higher U.S. tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel that saw the Turkish lira plunge by more than 20 percent against the U.S. dollar, the main foreign currency in Turkey.

Turkey responded to the US sanctions this week by issuing retaliatory tariffs on several key imports from the US such as passenger cars, alcohol and tobacco.

The main concern in Turkey is that the Turkish lira has lost about a third of its value against the US dollar during this year, significantly increasing the cost of living in Turkey at a time when inflation rate remains in double-digit territory.

Turkey’s economy managed to grow by 7 percent in the first half of this year, but some international analysts say the expansion was fuelled by foreign currency debt, mainly denominated in US dollar and that Turkey doesn't have large enough reserves to rescue the economy when things go wrong.

NATO member Turkey has been one of the world’s fastest growing economies in the past few years and has also been looking to expand its influence in the Western Balkans, a region it ruled for centuries until the early 20th century collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The escalation of the diplomatic spat between the US and Turkey follows Turkey's repeated insistence that the U.S. extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric whom president  Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses as the mastermind behind the failed July 2016 coup to topple him. Turkey is also outraged at US support in Syria for Kurdish fighters, whom THE Turkish government considers terrorists.

Relations between the two NATO allies have also been strained by Turkey's rapprochement with Russia.

The US and the EU have also expressed concern over Turkey's rising influence in the Western Balkans, a region aspiring to join the EU but where only Serbia and Montenegro are currently holding accession talks.

 

Possible implications for Albania

 Turkey is a major player in Albania, a NATO ally and a strategic partner and one of the top trading partners and foreign investors.

The U.S. is Albania’s top strategic partner, but trade and investment links between the two countries are quite modest and hampered by what the U.S. State Department describes as rampant corruption in the country.

However, a potential economic crisis there is not expected to have any major implications for Albania, where private Turkish companies run key businesses in the banking, energy sector and telecommunication sector.

Trade exchanges between Albania and Turkey are at about 50 billion lek (€395 mln) annually, representing 6 percent of Albania's total but overwhelming dominated by Albanian imports from Turkey, according to INSTAT, the Albanian statistical office.

Meanwhile, the stock of Turkish foreign direct investment to Albania was at €534 million in early 2018, making Turkey the sixth largest foreign investor in the country.

The recession in Italy and Greece, Albania’s main trading partners and top investors and the hosts of 1 million Albanian migrants, in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, had a sharp negative effect on Albania through lower trade, investment and remittance flows.

Turkish companies in Albania include BKT bank, the country’s largest commercial bank and Albtelecom, both of which part of Turkey-based Calik Holding, Kurum steelmaker which has been struggling to escape bankruptcy, and several investment in hydropower.

BKT, which hold more than a quarter of assets in Albania’s banking, has only modest exposure to Turkish government lira-denominated securities.

Spillover impacts from a possible economic crisis in Turkey could also affect their subsidiaries in Albania and planned investment such as the Vlora airport in southern Albania and the establishment of the Air Albania national airline with the support of the Turkish Airlines, where the Turkish government holds a 49 percent stake.

Last month, Fitch ratings agency downgraded Turkey to ‘BB’ from ‘BB+’ and attached an outlook negative, citing a widening current account deficit, a jump in inflation and the impact of the plunging lira.

However, international financial institutions predict the Turkish economy will grow by more than 4 percent over the next couple of years.

Turkey is one of the top travel destinations for Albanians with more than 100,000 Albanians visiting it last year, taking advantage of the its affordable all-inclusive package holidays.

Turkey’s rising popularity is also related to cultural affinity due to Albania having been under Ottoman occupation for 500 years until the early 20th century and a series of popular Turkish soap operas aired on Albanian TV.

Turkish officials have been repeatedly asking Albania to dismantle education and health institutions linked to what it calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) allegedly run by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen whom it accused of masterminding the failed July 2016 coup to topple Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Prof. Dr. Blerim Reka 

Almost three decades after Yugoslavia’s dissolution, the new borders of the Balkans are still not fixed and will likely remain so for the next decade. Only a few bilateral demarcation agreements between the former federal units have been signed, and each of the countries has unresolved boundary issues that may remain open for years to come.

These territorial disputes will most likely lead to a delayed stabilization of the Balkans. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, there is still a “fragile peace” in the region. Less likely, the EU and NATO may accept new member states from the Balkans despite the border issues.

Historically, borders in the Balkans have been drawn and redrawn many times, from the Berlin Congress in 1878 to conferences in London (1913), Versailles (1919) and Paris (1945). Border issues in the Balkans have generally been reopened by wars and closed by diplomacy. In 1975, the parties at the Helsinki Conference promulgated a key principle of maintaining the territorial status quo at the time, but once the Cold War ended, the borders were again changed. Through it all, the region’s boundaries have always been drawn in pen but backed up by bullets.

Eight open disputes 

In November 1991, at the commission advising on legal questions regarding the breakup of the republics, President of the International Peace Conference on Yugoslavia Lord Carrington asked whether the internal boundaries between Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina could be considered borders under international law. In its report, the commission replied that as Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution, the former internal boundaries should become frontiers protected by international law unless otherwise agreed.

It was expected that this interpretation would be respected by all the former Yugoslav republics. But 27 years later, the new states have not resolved all of their border disputes. Only this April, Montenegro and Kosovo ratified the Demarcation Treaty (it was signed in 2015), just as Macedonia and Kosovo did in 2008.
Unresolved border issues may have serious consequences for EU candidate countries.
Eight border disputes remain unresolved, involving new Balkan states that emerged from Yugoslavia, existing EU and NATO member states, and several Balkan countries that are currently candidates for entry into the EU. The consequences of unresolved border disputes may be especially significant for those candidates’ chances at integration. Alliance members clashing  Slovenia and Croatia, both NATO and EU members, are fighting over 670 kilometers of sea borders in Piran Bay. Though both governments signed the Drnovsek-Racan Agreement in July 2001, it has only been ratified by Slovenia, not Croatia. An arbitration agreement was signed in November 2009, and a court ruling decided in 2017 on the final demarcation between the two states. That decision has still not been accepted. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has called for an “urgent bilateral solution,” warning that such disputes will not be tolerated of new EU member states. In June 2018, Slovenia decided to take Croatia to court for non-implementation of the arbitration ruling. On its border with Montenegro, also a NATO member, Croatia faces a dispute over the Prevlaka peninsula, in the Adriatic Sea. In practice, under a 2002 interim regime with a land border in Konfin, the disputed land is Croatian and the sea a “mixed zone.” It is unlikely that the Montenegro-Croatia dispute will harm bilateral relations between the two countries. Not going away  Many of Serbia’s borders are at least somewhat contested, and the country is involved in two of the region’s thorniest border disputes, which are likely to remain unresolved for at least another decade: with Kosovo and with Croatia. The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo will be the hardest border dispute in the region. Due to a lack of bilateral diplomatic relations, resolving it will likely take years. To fix interstate borders, both countries should mutually recognize each other, but that is unlikely in the medium term.
Serbia is involved in two of the region's thorniest border issues, likely to remain unresolved for at least a decade.
Serbia insists that Kosovo is an “integral part” of its territory and treats Kosovo’s borders as “administrative.” For Kosovo, its borders are international. Kosovo made official its demarcation agreements with Macedonia and Montenegro, in 2008 and 2018 respectively, and maintains an international border with Albania. Only its Serbian border dispute remains unresolved. Having officially established several of its international borders, Serbia is not likely to convince Kosovo of a different border regime than it has with its other neighbors. But for Serbia, not fixing the dispute with Kosovo will have political and technical consequences. Insisting that Kosovo should be part of Serbia – even though realistically, Belgrade has no sovereignty there – will remain the main obstacle when it opens the EU’s Chapter 35 on resolving “other issues” before integration. As Chancellor Merkel made clear to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during his visit to Berlin in April 2018, new EU members should not have open territorial issues. That same line has been repeated in Washington and by the NATO Quint (an informal decision-making group consisting of the United States, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom). Abroad, Mr. Vucic is seeking support from Russian President Vladimir Putin. But inside the country, only 46 percent of Serbians consider Kosovo a top priority, and it is unlikely that Belgrade will ignore this kind of “advice” from the West. One scenario is that Serbia will recognize the Republic of Kosovo unconditionally, and then ask for compensation in the form of Northern Kosovo – a so-called “Serbian secret plan.” Most likely, Kosovo would not accept the loss of its territory, but it would be possible (though unlikely) that the international community would allow the change. If they do, the only realistic outcome would be a territorial swap based on ethnic criteria: Northern Kosovo (majority Serb) for Southern Serbia (majority Albanian). The idea became a top media theme this summer after a Brussels meeting between Mr. Vucic and Kosovar President Hashim Thaci. Surrounded by uncertainty  Serbia is engaged in further disputes on three other borders. After the war, both Serbia and Croatia have tried since 2003 to resolve their border dispute along the Danube River at a point near the town of Backa Palanka. Croatia insists on 11,500 hectares on the eastern side of the Danube, while Serbia, based on a law passed by the Vojvodina Assembly of 1946, is asking for 900 hectares on the west side of the river. In February 2018, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Serbian President Vucic declared that border negotiations would not start for at least two years. Recent tensions between the two countries will most likely delay any further attempts at a resolution. The dispute will probably postpone Serbia’s integration into the EU, as Croatia is already a member state. Another hot issue for Belgrade is its border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a somewhat unlikely scenario, three difficult border disputes may be resolved in the coming years: Ruda, in southern Bosnia; the hydroelectric area by the River Drina; and 12 km of Bosnian territory that Serbia wants for a railway to Montenegro. Other than these three areas, the hardest issue that will threaten the countries’ future relations will be Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity in Bosnia.
Another summit on the Balkans is wishful thinking, particularly given President Putin's resurgent Russia.
Finally, for Serbia, while its border with Macedonia near the Prohor Pcinjski Monastery is unresolved, it is unlikely that this low-level dispute will present serious problems. The monastery, built in the 11th century and reconstructed by Serbian kings, has religious importance for Serbia. But Macedonians hold it dear for political reasons; in 1944, it hosted the first session of the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), an early foundation stone of the state. Rich waters  Another regional dispute concerns Croatia and Bosnia, though not very significantly. The countries share a 1,000 km border and both signed the Tudjman-Izetbegovic Agreement, which was ratified by Bosnia but not Croatia. The main remaining problem is the seaport of Neum, which is Bosnia’s only access to the Adriatic Sea. The city may also have energy importance, after recently-discussed plans for a possible liquefied natural gas port there. It is unlikely that this dispute will heighten tensions between the two countries. Lastly, the region’s eighth dispute divides Greece, a member of the EU and NATO, and Albania, a NATO member that is on the path to EU integration. The conflict has two dimensions. Technically, the two countries are still at war due to Greece’s “Law on War” with Albania (1940), which has never been abrogated. Based on that law, the Cham Albanian population was expelled from its native territory on the coast of the Ionian Sea, with their land sequestered by the Greeks. More than 1,800 such land cases belonging to Cham Albanians have been noted, but Athens refuses to return their property. In 2008, Greece raised another dispute with Albania over the Ionian Sea, for economic reasons. These borders have been decided by many acts of international law, from the London Conference of 1913 through a 1925 agreement and the Final Act on the delimitation of Albanian borders (1926). Although Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias recognized the 1926 agreement, Athens has requested a new border drawing.
Mutual enmity persists in the Balkans, and thousands of people are still missing from the last wars.
The foreign ministers from both countries signed a bilateral agreement in April 2009 but it was not enforced after a legal ruling in Albania over the loss of six miles of Albanian waters. This contested area is rich with resources, including 4 billion cubic meters of oil and 1.5 billion square meters of gas; together, it could be worth $20 billion in the next two decades. In 2013, the new Albanian government abolished that agreement and in 2015 Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama declared that he will protect the territorial integrity of the country. New bilateral negotiations started in 2017, but before it was expected to be concluded by the visit of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, it was canceled in the last moment and postponed for June 2018; now, the negotiations are continuing. Three scenarios  There are three possible scenarios. The most likely is that the border disputes in the Balkans will not be resolved for at least another decade, due to lack of political will on behalf of the former enemies of the Balkan wars. If soft demarcation cases that were actually resolved took three years to conclude, the harder border cases will take longer. For example, the case of Serbia-Croatia may be solved in the next five years, but not the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, which will not even see the end of five years of “Brussels Dialogue” until 2019. Only after a normalization of their bilateral relations – which would likely be concluded in 2020 by a legally binding agreement – can their issues be solved. Under this scenario, a final map of the Balkans would not come before 2025, which coincides with the timeframe announced by Mr. Juncker of a new EU member state possibly joining the club. It is likely that Serbia will continue to receive support from Russia, and likewise Croatia and Kosovo from the West. Alternatively, though less likely, Serbia may ignore “advice” from Washington and Brussels on EU membership, expecting a veto in the EU Council regardless from Croatia. As far as the case of Albania and Greece, a resolution would require involvement not only of big powers, but also regional factors. If Athens insists on new border lines in the Ionian Sea, it will push Albania toward Turkey, which itself has a history of territorial tension with Greece over Cyprus and the Aegean Islands. The recent Turkish plan to build Albania’s second airport in Vlore, a city near the contested coastal border, is one example. And NATO recently decided to build an air base in Kucove, Albania, which would be its first in the Western Balkans. Eight border disputes in the Balkans 
  • Piran Bay, a sea border between Slovenia and Croatia
  • The Prevlaka peninsula, contested by Croatia and Montenegro
  • Kosovo’s border with Serbia, which still claims the state as its own territory
  • Backa Palanka, near an area claimed by both Croatia and Serbia
  • Three contested siteson the Bosnian-Serbian border
  • The Prohor Pcinjski Monasteryclaimed by both Serbia and Macedonia
  • Neum, a Bosnian port on the Adriatic Sea with areas contested by Croatia
  • The maritime border between Albania and Greece
Another scenario is that the border disputes, instead of being fixed bilaterally, may be resolved by a new multilateral territorial exchange package. Here, again, the hard bargaining would be between Serbia and Kosovo. If it is not able to take northern Kosovo, Serbia will ask for Republika Srpska; Kosovo, for its part, would ask for the Presevo Valley, which controls Corridor 8 and the Belgrade-Athens highway. That scenario would work only with significant international involvement, and with other crises raging in places like Syria, Iran and Ukraine, such an effort is not likely to happen in the short term. Another Balkans conference after the one in 1991 is wishful thinking, particularly when one compares President Vladimir Putin’s resurgent Russia with Boris Yeltsin’s version. The least likely scenario is a quick resolution of all border issues – a desirable but unrealistic outcome. Mutual enmity persists, and thousands of people are still missing from the last wars. One hundred thousand people were victims of those wars and another 100,000 were displaced, not to mention the approximately 500,000 who emigrated. In these conditions, conflicts cannot be solved quickly. In the Balkans, an objective problem (the borders) has a subjective component: the victims. Without real reconciliation, it is hard to expect a prompt solution to any territorial disputes. *This report was initally published at gisreportsonline.com  [post_title] => Border conflicts in the Balkans [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => border-conflicts-in-the-balkans [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-13 11:16:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-13 09:16:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138230 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138197 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-08-04 10:35:51 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-04 08:35:51 [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 4 – An Iranian father and daughter have traded accusations against each other over Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, MEK, whom Albania has offered accommodation under a deal with the United States but whose members official Iran has banned as terrorist group. Mostafa Mohammedi, a Canada-based Iranian citizen, claims his 38-year-old daughter is being held hostage by MEK, the "Peoples' Mujahedin of Iran," but his daughter denies claims and has filed a lawsuit against him. Somayeh Mohammadi is one of the 3,000 mujahedeen who have been accommodated in a camp outside Durres, Albania’s second largest city, as part of United States efforts to find them new homes outside of Iraq where they were stationed at a U.S-backed camp until late 2016. While in Albania seeking to meet his daughter whom he hasn’t seen in more than a decade,  Mostafa Mohammedi is asking Albanian authorities to free his 38-year old daughter from MEK, which he says is holding her hostage. His daughter has responded undertaking legal action against him over alleged persecution, accusing her father as an undercover agent of the Iranian regime and says that she joined and is staying with MEK of her own free will for two decades now. Mostafa, who holds Canadian citizenship, says he moved to Canada in 1994 to seek political asylum. The Iranian father claims MEK ‘kidnapped’ his daughter from Canada in 1997 when she was only 17, convincing him to allow her for a two-week trip to Iraq, but never came back. He says he hasn't met her since 2005. "We believe and we have testimony from former mujahedeen who have left the extremist organization and live in Tirana that our daughter lives under conditions of torture and inhuman treatment by the MEK jihadists," says the Iranian-Canadian in his letter to Albanian Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj. His appeal to the Albanian authorities is "think with your heart and understand the pain that a mother and father suffer when they see their daughter being held hostage by a violent and extremist group.” The Iranian father says he has filed a lawsuit with Albanian authorities over alleged MEK kidnapping but his daughter has responded by initiating legal action over alleged persecution.    ‘Father is undercover agent,’ daughter claims In a letter published on Albanian media, Somayeh Mohammadi claims her father is a undercover agent of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and that the real reason he is in Albania is to undertake undercover operations against MEK, which the Iranian government considers a terrorist organization for about four decades now. Somayeh says she voluntarily left Canada in 1998 like many Iranians to join MEK seeking freedom and democracy for Iran. She claims her father surprisingly told Canadian media she was being held hostage by MEK after meeting her at the Ashraf camp in Iraq in 2002, 2003 and 2004. "He created online propaganda blogs allegedly belonging to me and put other pressure to force me to surrender and collaborate with the Iranian authorities,” she says in her letter to Albanian authorities. Somayeh says she has published her whole story in a book available in Persian and English unveiling efforts by Mostafa Mohammedi to abuse her, and claims that her father had a role as an undercover Iranian agent in the Ashraf and Liberty camp killings in Iraq. "The presence of Mostafa Mohammad in Albania is very troubling for me. I am not concerned about myself, but the security of my friends in Albania. His presence shows that the Iranian regime is seeking to engage in other heinous plotting against us in Albania," she says in her letter to the Albanian Interior Minister, asking him to ban her father from staying in Albania. In another interview with local Albanian media, the Iranian-Canadian father claims that the letter signed by his daughter and published on Albanian media was written by Mujahedeen leaders who don't want her to joint her family. "I am not an Iranian agent. I am a Canadian citizen and parent who wants to free his daughter from the kidnapping of the Iranian jihadist group,” he says.   MEK in Albania  Albania’s decision to accommodate 3,000 MEK members in the past few years has angered official Tehran who has banned them from Iran since 1981. Mujahedin e Khalq members are opponents of Iran’s regime. Following the Islamic revolution of 1979, MEK supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s war between Iraq and Iran. MEK had been on the list of terrorist organizations for several years by the United States until it was finally removed from the list in 2012 after the dissident group supported the U.S in military operations in the Middle East and in its fight against terrorism. Relations between Albania and Iran date back to the 19th and 20th century when several Albanian Renaissance poets where inspired by Persian culture and Bektashism, an ultra-liberal mystical Muslim sect with roots in Sufism and Shia Islam that is also present in Albania, to promote Albanian independence. Iran is represented in Albania with its own embassy while the Saadi Shirazi cultural foundation has been present in Albania since the early 1990s promoting ties between Albania and Iran.   [post_title] => Iranian-Canadian father, mujahedeen daughter clash over Albania-based MEK [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => iranian-canadian-father-mujahedeen-daughter-clash-over-albania-based-mek [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-06 12:19:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-06 10:19:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138197 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138185 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-08-02 19:53:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-02 17:53:46 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL If Albania’s government was looking for good news on the economic front, this wasn’t a good week. Despite much touted official numbers showing steady economic growth and lower unemployment, a US report out this week shows what many feel on the ground in Albania: the business climate is not healthy and things are getting worse, not better, as major investors and skilled workers are forced to leave. In its 2018 investment climate statement for Albania, the US State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs says foreign investors cite corruption, particularly in the judiciary, lack of transparency in public procurement and poor enforcement of contracts as continuing problems in Albania. With the judicial reform ongoing and the entire system in disarray, hopefully there will be improvements in the mid to long term in the judiciary once the dust settles, but the report makes it clear that many of the issues making Albania inhospitable to investors are political and government-related. For example, the US report notes that major foreign investors in Albania report pressure to hire specific, politically-connected subcontractors. This naturally raises red flags for US companies that have to be accountable to their country's own rule of law, as in compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Political pressures have other ways to manifest themselves. For example, public private partnership, which are commonly being awarded through unsolicited proposals favoring proposing companies through bonuses that make them eventual winners in tenders. These are  also cited as a concern in the American report. That’s the case because they narrow the opportunities for competition, including by foreign investors, in infrastructure and other sectors. The US Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs also expresses concern over the long-standing issue of unclear property titles and uneven enforcement of legislation as barriers to doing business in the country. The high tax burden, government bureaucracy and monopoly and unfair competition have been the main barriers to doing business in the country for the past few years, according to annual surveys conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Albania representing some of the key foreign and local investors in the country. It is no wonder then, that at least two major investors with US ties have actually left Albania after having operations here, as the report notes. And an untold number might have simply been too afraid to enter the market. The problem is by no means limited to US investors and the report is not saying anything that tens of other similar international and domestic reports have not already said. But it is coming after the government started to pat itself in the back for “reviving Albania’s economy,” and, as such, it should serve as a wake up call for the Albanian political leaders to stop drinking their own kool aid and address the concerns faced by businesses. This week’s report by the US State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs shows Albania’s government is failing to create a better business climate. As such, it must be a sobering read for officials.   [post_title] => Editorial: US report on Albania economic climate should serve as a wake up call [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-us-report-on-albania-economic-climate-should-serve-as-a-wake-up-call [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-02 19:59:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-02 17:59:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138185 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138136 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-08-01 12:41:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-01 10:41:25 [post_content] => The following is an updated version of the online article that appeared earlier on Wednesday, Aug.1  TIRANA, Aug. 1 -  Albania's President has turned down some legal changes to the gambling tax by exercising his suspensive veto, arguing the proposed amendments reduce the tax burden for gambling operators and fail to discourage what is considered a booming business in the country with negative effects for one of Europe’s poorest countries. The president’s office argues the legal changes approved by the ruling Socialists in early July cut the gambling tax to 15 percent of gross earnings compared to a current 15 percent turnover rate, significantly reducing the tax burden on gambling operators. Meanwhile, the finance ministry argues the sole change to the 2015 gambling law is that the gambling tax on the loss-making Austrian-run national lottery has been unified to 15 percent. In his decree returning the legal changes for reconsideration by Parliament, President Ilir Meta says easing the tax burden on the gambling industry is a serious barrier to the country's sustainable economic and social development. The President argues the legal changes promote gambling and disorientate households in earning livelihoods and meeting daily needs through unproductive activities. “The implementation of the legal changes would only benefit gambling businesses at a time when the expected effects on the state budget or household economy are negative. Article 6 of the law also runs counter to meeting Albania's social targets and legislation in force discouraging gambling activities and increases the probability of negative phenomena on Albanian households,” argues the president as quoted in a statement. "The gambling business model does not produce added value for the society, on the contrary the expansion of this industry brings potential risk that impoverish Albanian households and cause social drama,” adds the president’s press office. The President also argues the legal changes run counter to the government's will and stance against gambling whose informality it fought through a nationwide campaign in late 2013 and the latest initiative to move casinos to suburban or tourist areas. “The promotion of this business model through an easier tax regime has a negative effect on the state budget, is harmful and no productive at all for the Albanian economy, is not based on sustainable socio-economic arguments and does not guarantee a healthy development of the Albanian society,” concludes the president.   Gov’t denies lower tax claims Reacting to the president's decree, the finance ministry said there was no easier tax burden but only a unification of the 15 percent tax rate on gambling industry, which in the case of the national lottery operator was applied at lower 10 percent. The ministry says gross income under the existing law is also calculated as the amount remaining after the distribution of profits to gamblers and not as a rate on total turnover as the president’s office has misinterpreted it. "There is no change to the gambling law and no relaxation as far as gambling taxation is concerned, on the contrary there is unification for all gambling categories. If the changes turned down by the president, don't become effective, then we will have differentiated treatment for a market operator that will continue to be taxes at 10 percent," the finance ministry said in a statement. Austrian Lotteries launched its Albania operations in 2013 after it was given a 10-year licence to organize Albania’s first ever national lottery and offered a 10 percent tax rate. Back in mid-2016, the Austrian Lotteries Albania operations were taken over by another Austria-based company already present in Albania with a chain of electronic casinos following accumulated losses. A booming business Gambling is a booming business in Albania and varies from casinos to sports betting. Thousands of betting shops are scattered across the country. A gambling law, which has been in force for several years, bans people under 21 from entering betting shops, but regardless, teenagers are often seen there. In late 2013, the then Socialist Party-led coalition undertook a nationwide campaign "End of Madness" to tackle high informality in the sector but data shows gambling companies have been paying less in taxes despite Albanians significantly increasing their spending. Albanians reportedly spent a record 16.6 billion lek (€132 mln) in gambling in 2017, up 10 percent compared to the previous year, according to turnover data reported by the main electronic casino, lottery and sports betting companies. In a report on inspections carried out in the first half of 2017, the Supreme State Audit said it identified about 50 billion lek (€395 million) in income that state authorities failed to collect from 2014 to 2016. The revenue miss is related to the Gambling Supervisory Authority’s failure to impose and collect fines following seizure of games of chance equipment, often operated informally or not meeting technical requirements. In late 2016, the ruling Socialist Party-majority approved a two-year extension to a law disciplining gambling in downtown areas, citing concerns over gambling businesses not being ready to move to tourist attractions, the possible spread of illegal gambling and the state budget losing millions of euros in taxes, in a move which came following apparent successful lobbying by the lucrative gambling industry. The law, initially scheduled to come into force in January 2017, will now be implemented starting 2019 unless a new extension takes place. Albanian authorities have selected an Austrian-Polish-Albanian concessionaire to set up, operate and maintain an online central monitoring system on Albania’s gambling industry for the next 30 years. The government says the concession is aimed at preventing tax evasion and money laundering in the industry which employs about 1,800 people and generates more than $125 million in annual turnover. Second presidential veto in few days This is the second time in a few days that President Ilir Meta has returned bills to be reconsidered by Parliament where the majority can still use their votes to turn the bill into law at a time when the country’s constitutional court is non-operational due to a vetting process underway as part of a judiciary reform having dismissed several judges after failing to justify their financial assets. President Meta has also exercised his suspended veto power on a bill paving the way for the demolition of an Italian-built WWII building in downtown Tirana that has served as the country’s national theater for about eight decades in a controversial project that has divided Albanian politicians and actors. The new contemporary architecture theater is supposed to be built by a private company in return for being offered public land to build business towers next to it, but the president argues the bill has violated market competition through its negotiated procedure and fails to preserve national heritage values. Meta is a former experienced politician who has served as the country’s Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker and also led the country’s third largest party for more than a decade until he took office as president in mid-2017.     [post_title] => President turns down legal changes allegedly easing gambling tax burden [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => president-turns-down-legal-changes-easing-tax-burden-on-booming-gambling-industry [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-01 16:28:44 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-01 14:28:44 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138136 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138117 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-07-31 11:08:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-31 09:08:27 [post_content] => TIRANA, July 31 - The U.S. State Department says Albania continues to remain a difficult place to do business with endemic corruption as the top concern that keeps potential American investors away from the country. In its 2018 investment climate statement for Albania, the State Department's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs says foreign investors cite corruption, particularly in the judiciary, lack of transparency in public procurement and poor enforcement of contracts as continuing problems in Albania. "The implementation of judicial reform is underway, including the vetting of judges and prosecutors for unexplained wealth, but foreign investors perceive the investment climate as problematic and say Albania remains a difficult place to do business," says the report. U.S. investors to Albania, whom the State Departments advises to include binding international arbitration clauses in agreements with Albanian counterparts, report ongoing concerns that Albanian regulators use difficult-to-interpret or inconsistent legislation and regulations as tools to dissuade foreign investors and favor politically connected companies. “Despite hospitable legislation, U.S. investors are challenged by rampant corruption and the perpetuation of informal business practices. Several major U.S. investors have left the country in recent years after contentious commercial disputes, including several that were brought before international arbitration,” says the report. The U.S. State Department says major foreign investors in Albania report pressure to hire specific, politically connected subcontractors and express concern about compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act while operating in the country. The rising concern came after two major North American oil companies, former Canadian-owned Bankers Petroleum and U.S.-based TransAtlantic Petroleum left the country in 2016 following disputes with tax authorities in the country and a slump in international oil prices. Public private partnership, which are commonly being awarded through unsolicited proposals favoring proposing companies through bonuses that make them eventual winners in tenders, are also cited as a concern. “The increasing use of public private partnership contracts has narrowed the opportunities for competition, including by foreign investors, in infrastructure and other sectors. Poor cost-benefit analyses and a lack of technical expertise in drafting and monitoring PPP contracts are ongoing concerns,” says the report. The U.S. Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs also expresses concern over the long-standing issue of unclear property titles and uneven enforcement of legislation as barriers to doing business in the country. “Property rights remain another challenge in Albania, as clear title is difficult to obtain. Some factors include unscrupulous actors who manipulate the corrupt court system to obtain title to land not their own. Uneven enforcement of legislation, cumbersome bureaucracy, and a lack of transparency are all hindrances to the business community,” says the report. The high tax burden, government bureaucracy and monopoly and unfair competition have been the main barriers to doing business in the country for the past few years, according to annual surveys conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce representing some of the key foreign and local investors in the country. Albania lost seven places to rank 65th among 190 economies in the 2018 Doing Business report, lagging behind almost all regional competitors, according to a World Bank report.   Potential investment sectors Despite the considerable number of doing business barriers identified, the State Department says energy and power, tourism, water supply and sewerage, road and rail, mining, and information communication technology represent the best prospects for foreign direct investment in Albania over the next several years. The identified sectors have also been included in the strategic investment law that the Albanian government approved in 2015 offering tax incentives and state protection and assistance. However, as the December 2018 deadline for application to receive the status of strategic investment/investor is approaching, no major foreign investors have taken advantage of the law and it’s only several projects proposed by domestic companies or consortiums of local and foreign partners that have been designated as strategic investments, mostly in the tourism sector, says the U.S. State Department report. The critical investment climate report comes at a time when the modest investment and trade ties have failed to make progress in the past few years. The stock of U.S. foreign direct in Albania has been on downward trend in the past three years, dropping to €74 million in early 2018, down from a peak €97 million in early 2015, according to Bank of Albania of data, ranking the U.S. out of the top 10 largest investors in Albania. Trade exchanges between the U.S. and Albania are at a modest of about 12 billion lek (€95 mln, $111 mln) annually, accounting for only 1.5 percent of Albania’s trade volume, according to Albania’s statistical institute, INSTAT. The trade exchanges are overwhelming dominated by machinery and equipment Albania imports while medicinal plants lead the country’s exports to the U.S. Some 200,000 Americans of Albanian descent live in the U.S. while the number of Albanian-Americans who permanently live in Albania is estimated at 20,000, making it a huge potential for investment at home. [post_title] => Corruption remains top concern for potential U.S. investors to Albania, report shows [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => corruption-remains-top-concern-for-potential-u-s-investors-to-albania-report-shows [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-03 09:34:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-03 07:34:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138117 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138109 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-07-30 11:56:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-30 09:56:32 [post_content] => TIRANA, July 30 – Big Albania seaside hotels and restaurants are facing temporary closure penalties for failing to comply with tax authorities during the peak tourist season as part of a nationwide campaign to tackle widespread tax evasion in the emerging tourism sector. Tax authorities say they have imposed 30-day suspension of activity on dozens of hotels and restaurants along the country’s Adriatic and Ionian coasts for repeated failure to issue tax receipts in what is the first time such penalties are being massively imposed during the peak tourist season. Tax inspectors say they identified violations in about 40 percent of the inspected tourism-related businesses in the past couple of months as part of nationwide campaign to curb informality in what is gradually becoming one of the key sectors of the Albanian economy. Authorities say 2,000 businesses have been fined a total of 75.2 million lek (€595,000) out of more than 5,000 inspections carried out in June and July 2018 for violations such as failure to issue tax receipts, undocumented goods and informal workers. In inspections carried out along the southern Albanian Riviera, inspectors say they also identified several unlicensed hotels which have had their activity suspended until they register with authorities. In some cases, hotel and restaurant owners have condemned what they call arbitrary behavior by tax inspectors and describe the 30-day bans as severe punishment for their businesses at a golden time such as the peak tourism season. Hotel owners also complain they face unfair competition from smaller accommodation units operating informally or households who informally rent out their apartments at much cheaper rates. Small and medium-sized hotel owners along the Adriatic coast say the June and July performance has not been what they expected and rather lower temperatures and rainy days have also had a negative impact compared to last year’s heat wave and one of the hottest summers in decades. Tourism experts say a hike in prices, often not justifying the quality of service especially in the southern Albanian Riviera, and a sharp strengthening of the Albanian local currency against Europe’s single currency making holidays in Albania much more expensive has also negatively affected this year’s tourist season so far when demand has not met expectations. All eyes are now on the August performance, the peak season, when dozens of thousands of migrants also come home to spend their holidays, adding to the issue of seasonality in Albania’s emerging tourism industry. Meanwhile, big hotels and resorts operating under contracts with tour operators have been booked up for summer due to hike in Nordic and central European tourists. Already in its peak season, tourism is a booming business in Albania in summer when thousands of companies reactivate their business, but informality in the sector is considered one of the highest, second only compared to agriculture sector which employs about half of the country’s population but produces only a fifth of the GDP. Albania has some 16,000 businesses operating in the travel and tourism industry, about a tenth of the total number of businesses in the country, but a considerable number of them operate only seasonally. Tourist accommodation units have been facing a reduced 6 percent valued added tax for the past year, down from a previous standards 20 percent VAT, but the lower rate only applies to accommodation fees and excludes food, drinks or entertainment. In a bid to promote elite tourism, the Albanian government is now offering tax incentives for four and five-star hotels with an investment value between €8 million to €15 million. The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when authorities say it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income from more than 5 million foreign tourists. [post_title] => Big hotels, restaurants handed 30-day ban for tax evasion [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => big-hotels-restaurants-handed-30-day-ban-for-tax-evasion [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-30 11:56:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-30 09:56:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138109 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138299 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-08-24 15:28:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-24 13:28:56 [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 24 – Albania’s largest private hospital has consolidated its position in the Albanian private healthcare system by fully acquiring its key rival. Greece-based Hygeia Group says it has sold its loss-making Albania unit to the American Hospital of Albania after almost a decade of accumulated debts. The sale operation comes eight years after Hygeia launched its Tirana hospital, a €60 million initial investment facility offering all kind of medical and surgery services. The Hygeia Group says the sale was concluded for €1 million, with the buyer having committed to pay off about €30 million in long-term loans that Hygeia Hospital Tirana owed to banks and other Hygeia subsidiaries. "The Buyer assumes the liabilities of Hygeia Hospital Tirana amounting to 29.5 million euros in total (including the long-term borrowings amounting to approximately 19 million euros, as well as liabilities to Hygeia Group companies, amounting to approximately 2.5 million euros),” Hygeia says in a statement adding that the sale will serve the Athens-based group to reduce its bank borrowings. Hygeia, which has been operating in the Greek private health sector for about four decades, owned three hospitals in Greece before launching its fourth Tirana hospital in 2010. Hygeia is the third major Greek business to leave Albania this year after the sale of two Greek bank units earlier this year which is expected to significantly cut the stock of Greek foreign direct investment in the country this year. The host of about half a million Albanian migrants, Greece has been the top investor in Albania with an investment stock of €1.3 billion in early 2018. Greece is also the traditional second largest partner of Albania, but trade links between the two countries sharply reduced during Greece’s 8-year recession ending in 2016 that saw its economy lose about a quarter of the GDP. The merger makes the American Hospital in Albania, already leading the private health sector, much stronger. The American Hospital, owned by a Netherlands-based company and run by an Albanian administrator, already owns six hospital in Tirana, Durres and Fier, Albania’s three largest cities, as well as in Kosovo. The hospital also has a minority stake in a 10-year hemodialysis concession assisting patients with kidney failure in Albania’s main public hospitals until 2026. Albanians are estimated to spend about €60 million annually in private hospitals and clinics whose number has significantly increased in the past decade. Albania’s public health sector is perceived as one of the most corrupt and inefficient sectors, with patients often choosing to get treated at private hospitals in the country or go abroad.   [post_title] => Albania’s largest private hospital acquires key Greek rival [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albanias-largest-private-hospital-acquires-key-greek-rival [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-24 15:28:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-24 13:28:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138299 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 52 [name] => Premium [slug] => premium [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 52 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Please subscribe to have access to articles in our premium section. 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