An investigation by Albanian journalist Gjergj Thanasi has revealed serious security breaches with Albania’s new biometric passport system. Biometric ID cards and passports are now a requirement for Albanians wishing to travel to European Union countries without visa restrictions. They contain unique information about the holder, such as fingerprints and information about the individual’s physical characteristics. The passports are considered harder to falsify than traditional identification documents.
As Thanasi notes in his report, the only way to falsify biometric passports is for corrupt authorities to enter bad information. That appears to be happening, Thanasi’s report shows. Since the introduction of biometric passports in Albania in May 2009, the Albanian emigration police and the border authorities of several European countries detected numerous cases of biometric passports with “borrowed” identities. These falsified passports were detected through random fingerprint checks on European borders.
During a session of the security sub-committee of the Albanian Parliament, the Director General of the Albanian General Register Office Armand Teliti said that the Albanian authorities have so far detected over 500 biometric passports with identity information stolen from other Albanian citizens.
So far, only a few owners of falsified passports have been arrested to date, as well as a small number of civil servants in remote Albanian villages, and several employees of the Aleat-Safran company, which was contracted to make the passports. The defendants received short prison sentences and had to pay fines..
According to Thanasi, some of the bearers of these passports are ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, who still need visas to travel to Europe. Others include Albanian citizens who have been banned from entering the European Union. Still others are convicted criminals, individuals wanted by the authorities, and even Iranian citizens linked to terrorist activities.
Durim Sula of the Albanian newspaper Investigimi, and Dr. Idriz Tafa, writing for the Durres Bulevard, said Yemeni terrorists as well as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have falsified Albanian biometric passports with stolen Albanian identities. Press reports say Albanian authorities are working closely with US security specialists to identify these people.
The passports have been at the center of several major scandals. The death of high-ranking Albanian intelligence officer, Isa Copa, is being linked in press reports to an investigation into Iranian citizens bearing stolen identities. Copa was murdered in late October of this year. Further, Bujar Himci, the deputy minister of Internal Affairs, and Veli Myftari, the Director General of the Albanian Police, were arrested for embezzling US$4 million from government funds allocated for biometric passports. They were later imprisoned after an American company called Euroget proved that it had been illegally prevented from bidding for the tender to win the contract to make biometric passports in Albania.
While Himci and Myftari were convicted for embezzling funds, no high-ranking officials have yet been convicted for illegally issuing passports or aiding terrorists.