bne IntelliNews -
The Albanian parliament voted overwhelmingly on February 5 to appoint career banker Gent Sejko as the governor of the Bank of Albania (BoA). Sejko will replace longstanding central bank governor Ardian Fullani who was sacked in 2014 after thefts of around €5mn worth of cash were revealed.
105 MPs voted in favour of Sejko’s appointment at a session late on February 5, with just three dissenting votes and four abstentions in a rare show of unity in the parliament.
One of Sejko’s main tasks will be to restore confidence in the BoA, after an internal audit revealed ALL715m (€5mn) in cash had been stolen from the bank’s vaults.
Speaking to BoA staff on February 6, Sejko promised that, “the Bank of Albania will be an institution meriting the trust and respect of the public".
At the same meeting, parliament speaker Ilir Meta said the parliament would give its full support to the bank “with regard to facing future challenges and ensuring financial stability in Albania”, according to a BoA statement.
The scandal broke in July 2014 when seven BoA employees were arrested. One economist confessed to police that he had smuggled banknotes out of the building inside his clothes or old books, Reuters reported at the time. Ardian Bitraj told police he used the money to gamble, stealing notes daily during the 2014 World Cup.
Fullani was taken into police custody on September 5. Two weeks later, the parliament voted to dismiss him from his post for alleged abuse of office, though he has not been accused of direct involvement in the thefts. He is now among 19 former central bank officials awaiting trial.
A statement from Albanian prosecutors said that Fullani, together with the bank’s inspector general Elivar Golemi, “because of their inactions, have created conditions to violate the security of money in the administration of the Bank of Albania". The revelations about the lack of supervision at the bank also raised concerns about how effectively it carried out its role of supervising the Albanian banking sector.
Fullani joined the BOA as deputy governor in 1992, and was appointed governor in 2004. In 2011, he was re-appointed for a second seven-year term, despite fierce opposition from the Socialist Party, which came to power under Edi Rama in September 2013.
Shortly after Fullani’s sacking, Rama hinted that he was considering choosing a foreign banker to head the bank. Sejko, however, is an Albanian who graduated from the University of Tirana, later studying at the University of Glasgow. Prior to his appointment as central bank governor, he was the deputy general manager of Societe Generale Albania.
The theft scandal threw the spotlight onto the high level of corruption in Albania, which is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe according to Transparency International. The 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index puts Albania, tied with Kosovo, in 110th place out of 175 countries, the lowest rank of any European country except Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. While Albania was accepted as a European Union candidate country in 2014, EU foreign ministers told Tirana that progress on fighting corruption and organised crime must be made if the country is to progress towards EU accession.
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