Organized crime and judicial corruption democratic transformation and prospects for justice in the western Balkans
: a case study of Albania

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Judicial corruption and organised crime are the main factors which have undermined the democratisation process and the strengthening of the rule of law in the Western Balkans. Organised crime and corruption are so entrenched that they have been cited as two key obstacles to the admission of Albania to European Union membership in 2011. In Albania, as in many Western Balkans countries, the democratic transition of the early 1990s has encountered many problems as institutional transformation has been put into practice. While many people envisioned a new democratic regime and retrospective justice for the excesses of prior community officials, many former members of the politburo retain key positions in the economy and politics today. They do so in a context where organised crime and judicial corruption flourish. Albania scores poorer than any other country in the Western Balkans on judicial corruption. Despite the massive consequences of judicial corruption and organised crime for post-communist societies, research on their nexus is rare. The literature is limited for the most part just to describing general patterns and consequences of the phenomenon (Van Dijk 2007; Buscaglia and van Dijk 2003). The academic discourse does little to explore the causes of judicial corruption and its links to organised crime (Buscaglia and van Dijk 2003; Delia Porta 2001; Ruggiero 2000; Delia Porta and Vannucci 1999; Gambeta 1993; Paoli 2003). There are only a few studies on organised crime and corruption in the Western Balkans (Giatzidis 2007; Stojarova 2007; Transcrime 2004; Holmes 2009; Dobovsek 2006; Arsovska 2008; Trimcev 2002). Within this narrow context, this thesis explores the interplay of judicial corruption and organised crime in the Western Balkans with the case study of Albania. This research is socio-legal in its nature and looks at both social and institutional aspects of the phenomenon. The framework adopted combines qualitative and quantitative methods.
It included 61 semi-structured interviews; the observation of court proceedings in urban and rural courts for 14 days; archival research of 31 files and secondary data analysis of judicial corruption during the modern period of the Albanian state (1912-2011); as well as the review of several international and local reports on corruption and crime in Albania. This thesis argues that in post-communist societies there are different categories of judges who struggle for power. A high level of judicial corruption favours corrupt judges over honest ones and this also influences social disparity among different categories of judges inside the judiciary. This class division might create an internal conflict between judges and erode the efficiency of the judiciary. It is also argued that if the social status of judges is low, then judges may develop their own subculture and claim a higher status in society. This may push judges to deviance. The rise of corruption in the judiciary weakens the violent patterns of organised crime to influence the judiciary. This strengthens the role of bribes in corrupting judges. As a result, an ongoing ’clientelist’ relationship between organised crime and judicial corruption is more likely. Sophisticated organised crime groups tend to establish permanent relations with judicial corruption, whereas less developed organised crime prefers sporadic contacts. Judicial corruption opens opportunities for powerful elites and organised crime to gain by influencing the judiciary. It helps corrupt judges to get promoted because they have the financial means. Contrary to the limited existing literature, customary norms such as ’Krahinizem’ (regionalism) and ’Kanun’ (codified customary norms) do not play as significant a role in the corruption of modern urban courts as previously expected.
’Clientelistic’ family relationships exert a kind of asymmetrical relationship with judicial corruption - sometimes they may promote particularism but family honour on the part of judges may also work to prevent it. It is also noted that blood feud continues to play a significant role in shaping the incentive of judges for corruption and also the motivation of organised crime for recruitment in the hinterland. A distinctive finding of this research is that in societies where there is successive disruption of the judicial systems through political transition and lack of consolidated democratic legal culture, judicial corruption is more likely. This study brings some important contributions to the literature of corruption and crime in post-communist societies. Methodologically, this thesis is the only work that draws on legal history, criminology, jurisprudence and public law for the analysis of the links between judicial corruption and organised crime. And finally, this research is among very few works that attempt to theorise empirically judicial corruption in the context of organised crime in post-communist societies. From the criminological aspect, this study for the first time draws attention to the subculture of judges and shows some deviant patterns of judges justifying their corrupt behaviour.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPenelope Green (Supervisor), Jane Henderson (Supervisor) & Mary Vogel (Supervisor)

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