May 28, 2018 / 6:20 PM / a year ago

Albania enlists accounting firm Ernst & Young to help combat economic crime

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama gives a statement to the media ahead of the talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania’s under-resourced government signed a deal with accounting firm Ernst & Young on Monday to get hands-on help in fighting rampant tax evasion and other economic crimes.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said Albanian authorities had quintupled the amount of wealth seized from criminal activities since his Socialists took power in 2013.

Police have frozen assets worth some 10 million euros (8.73 million pounds) in the last five months, an official said.

“We have done a lot but we feel the need to do much more because there is still money out there that belongs to the people and the country and is now where it should not be,” Rama said at the signing ceremony.

The black economy in Albania is estimated to be worth about a third of its gross domestic product despite a government campaign to get everyone to issue receipts for all goods sold.

Tax evasion amounts to nearly 8 percent of GDP, or 810 million euros, equal to six times the defence budget, a 2017 study showed.

The Ernst & Young team will be led by an American who has worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and a German who managed his country’s economic crime unit.

The European Union has recommended that Albania start membership talks, but some member states still doubt Tirana’s ability to tackle drug trafficking and organised crime. The EU is due to decide by end-June whether to start the talks.

Reporting By Benet Koleka, Editing by Gareth Jones

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