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Albanian Electiongate: Wiretaps Reveal Collusion Between Crime Boss, Ministers, MPs And Police

Albanian Electiongate: Wiretaps Reveal Collusion Between Crime Boss, Ministers, MPs And Police
Former Minister Damian Gjiknuri (left) and Prime Minister Edi Rama (right)

A minister, a crime boss and a police chief who have a plan for election manipulation. A minister who speaks with a notorious mafia boss to discuss vote buying. A mafia boss who collects identity cards to prevent opposition voters from casting their votes. Ministers and MPs who praise a police chief on behalf of the Prime Minister for his achievements in manipulating the elections. Ministers and MPs who praise a mafia boss for his achievements in manipulating elections. A mafia boss who is received in “The Big Office” by “The Man” and is promised favors.

This is a brief summary of the wiretaps published this evening by the German newspaper Bild, allegedly leaked from the Albanian anti-mafia prosecution office.

The tapes reveal the collusion in electoral fraud between senior politicians of the ruling Socialist Party of Albania, mafia bosses and police during the 2016 early local elections in Dibër Country in Albania.

This is the fourth episode of wiretaps published this year. The first two episodes (here and here) involved vote buying and electoral manipulation in Durrës, where Mayor Dako and several senior PS officials colluded with the notorious Avdylaj criminal group.

The latest two episodes involve manipulation of elections in Dibër County.

At the center of the latest wiretaps are the then Minister of Infrastructure Damian Gjiknuri, MP and Chairman of the National Security Parliamentary Committee Xhemal Qefalia, Dibër Police Chief Robert Aga, and crime boss and murder convict Imer Lala.

Crime boss Imer Lala is also the father of MP Reme Lala, who entered the parliament  in 2017 representing the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU). Less than e year into her job, MP Lala left the PDIU and joined the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Here is a detailed description of the wiretaps just published by Bild.

Dibër Police Chief Robert Aga speaks with the then Minister of Infrastructure Damian Gjiknuri and a businessman called Bekim Krashi. The minister is moved by the results of their strategy of electoral manipulation. He congratulates the police chief, and warns him to be cautious on the phone.

Police Chief Robert Aga: Yes, mate!
Bekim Krashi: Ah, What you have achieved, what you have achieved, you killed it completely, hahahahaha! You are killing it, you are not letting anything go!
Police Chief Robert Aga: I want to have 1,000 plus [votes]. I do not accept anything under 1,000.
[…]
Police Chief Robert Aga: My strategy works!
Bekim Krashi: I know, I know. You have declared it! You are a political commissar, hahahaha!
Police Chief Robert Aga: Yes, yes. Look, is [Ministe] Damian Gjiknuri there with you?
Bekim Krashi: Why, you want me to pass the phone over?
Police Chief Robert Aga: Yes, pass it on.
Police Chief Robert Aga: Hi, boss!
Minister Daminan Gjiknuri: What’s up?
[…]
Police Chief Robert Aga: Because you did not have faith in me.
Minister Daminan Gjiknuri: Earthquake! Earthquake! You are the master! You said it… Hahahaha! You are a giant! Cmon, ciao. Don’t speak too much here, right.

Following the excellent result achieved in the election manipulation, PS MP Xhemal Qefalia, also Chairman of the National Security Parliamentary Committee, calls Police Chief Robert Aga to assure him that Prime Minister Edi Rama, Head of PS Parliamentary Group Gramoz Ruci [now Speaker of Parliament], Minister Damian Gjiknuri, MPs Ulsi Manja and Blerina Gjylameti are happy of the work he did in Dibër.

MP Qefalia confirms that they all agreed to promote him as a result: from the Dibër police, he will be transferred to Bulqiza.

Police Chief Robert Aga: Hey, I am part of the Socialist Party, and I would not change, not for a million years.
[…]
MP Xhemal Qefalia: Gramoz [Ruci] was there, also Edi [Rama] was there. All of them were there. As we were talking… in fact Damian [Gjiknuri] spoke very well about you, also Blerina [Gjylameti], and I said: He needs to get going, you have f…ed him, sent him there [to Dibër], he can also do a lot over here [in Tirana]. I also told Ulsi [Manja] in order to reinforce it, because I thought he might object to it. I told them, he can work for me here in Tirana, but the thing is even where he is, he gets things done.
Police Chief Robert Aga: God willing they first move me to Bulqiza.

Police Chief Robert Aga wants to make sure he will be promoted. He speaks with MP Qefalia, while the latter is in the company of Prime Minister Edi Rama, Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri, MP Ulsi Manja, also Head of the Legal Affairs Committee. MP Qefalia passes the phone over to Minister Tahiri and Ulsi Manja so they can all thank him for his part in manipulation of elections and assure him of rewards.

MP Qefalia: I am here with the Prime Minister and the Ministers!
Police Chief Robert Aga: Oh, no! I assure you I will do whatever you guys want!
MP Qefalia: Let me get the minister for you, talk to him because you are breaking my balls, talk to him. [Talks to Minister Tahiri, who is the chief of Aga] Talk a bit to this friend of mine from the police station.
Minister Tahiri: Hey, Bert! […] Thank you very much for your involvement, you are a giant!
Police Chief Robert Aga: It’s my duty!
Minister Tahiri: You were great! And don’t break your balls about what they [opposition party] are saying because…
Police Chief Robert Aga: I am your soldier!
MP Qefalia: Ulsi says hello too. Talk to Ulsi a bit too…
MP Ulsi Manja: Where are you bro?
Police Chief Robert Aga: How are you doing?
MP Manja: With the Prime Minister now.
Police Chief Robert Aga: I need to go there [promoted to Bulqiza]… for a while.
MP Manja: We are thinking about a higher posting for you […] We are talking about something higher up, because we need you for something bigger.
Police Chief Robert Aga: Ok then, fine.
[…]
MP Qefalia: You are my friend, don’t beat my d…ck. Do you want to talk to [Edi] Rama?
Police Chief Robert Aga: Cmon bro… now, that document…

Robert Aga indeed got promoted to Traffic Police Chief in Kukës, while Arben Keshi from the previous series of wiretaps was promoted to the Bulqizë police.

The Socialist Party also colluded with infamous criminals in Dibër to secure the manipulation of elections. Crime boss and murder convict Imer Lala appears to have managed the Socialist Party campaign of vote buying and voter intimidation in Dibër.

Imer Lala is also revealed as a possible collaborator of Prime Minister Edi Rama. Lala exchanges phone messages with “The Man”, is received by him in the “Big Office”, and is promised favors.

Imer Lala speaks with Minister Damian Gjiknuri, who thanks him for the great results achieved in elections.
Minister Gjiknuri: Earthquake! Earthquake! Wow! Wow! Wow! Earthquake! F…k them all!
Ime Lala: You see what the two of us have achived!
Damian Gjiknuri: Earthquake!
Imer Lala: Hey, “The Man” was writing to me.
Damian Gjiknuri: Yeah…
Imer Lala: I told him, are you asleep. No, man, he said, I am stunned, I cannot sleep […] I told him you have not really known Damian Gjiknuri and myself then.
Damian Gjiknuri: Earthquake! Earthquake!
Imer Lala: Cmon, please, let me finish…
Damian Gjiknuri: F…k them all! I think your word of over 1,000 [votes] is proven right now!
Imer Lala: Hey, I mean it, even you have not really known me!
Damian Gjiknuri: Eh, you have known me and I have known you!

In another conversation, crime boss Imer Lala reassures his collaborators in election manipulation that candid camera interceptions showing vote-buying in Dibër, which aired in an investigative TV show, do not constitute legal proof. The footage aired on TV showed the brother of the then PS mayoral candidate receiving a person who was interested in selling his vote.

The wiretaps also reveal how Imer Lala received information from the voting center that a certain person did not vote for the Socialist Party, as he had promised the crime boss. Lala gets furious and vows to retaliate.

Unknown person: Chairman of the FRD and his people have voted for Sherefedin Shehu [opposition candidate]
Imer Lala: No, that’s not true!!!
Unknown: Yes, I checked it now, cos he voted 20 minutes ago.
Imer Lala: F…k him and al his people!
Unknown: I checked it, because I left someone there, 5 people […] all of them for Sherefedin.
Imer Lala: I will call that piece of shit. F…k him! When I came there I called him. I told him you will go to the headquarters […] and that we are for this one [PS candidate].

Crime Boss Imer Lala also arranges payments for votes cast for the Socialist Party.

Unknown: Bro, a certain Basri Veseli, do we know him?
Imer Lala: Basri Veseli, yes.
Unknown: I met him, but he hasn’t received anything [money].
Imer Lala: What do you mean? Nothing?
Unknown: Did you bring him some coffee [slang for “money”]?
Imer Lala: Yes, I did that sort of thing.
Unknown: But then you are done buddy, but they have not gone there [with the money].

Manipulation of elections also involved criminal groups collecting ID cards in order to prevent opposition voters from voting. Crime boss Imer Lala reveals this strategy in a conversation with an unidentified person.

Unknown: Shefki Xhura, shall I give back the ID cards to him or not?
Imer Lala: Give them back, give them back.
Unknown: I have finished the thing with him [slang for “payment”], but shall I still give back the ID cards to him?
Imer Lala: Give them back.

Minister Gjiknuri and crime boss Imer Lala arrange a meeting to allocate “teams” to voting centers. The “teams” put together by Lala will be there to “monitor” elections.

Imer Lala: Yes, I was thinking we can have a coffee, but I was thinking, I have gathered the people here to allocate, the monitoring teams for the tents.
Damian Gjiknuri: By the kiosk, are you there, at your place?
Imer Lala: Yes, don’t be late please.

The criminal boss colluding with the government in manipulation of elections gets favors that would justify his hard work. In three conversations with different people, Imer Lala reveals that he will meet “The Man” in “The Big Office”. After the meeting has taken place, Lala tells a third person that he got assurances that the trouble the other person had is “closed”.

Phone Call 1
Imer Lala: I am going “to the Big Office”. [Allegedly Prime Minister’s Office] Do I look good or what?
Unknown: Yes, of course.

Phone Call 2
Imer Lala: I have a meeting at 10.30 with “The Man”, I am going to see him in his office.
Unknown: I understand.

Phone Call 3
Imer Lala: Hey, well, I was with the big guy, just got out of there.
Unknown: Uhuh…
Imer Lala: Don’t break your balls for anything no more!

The wiretaps have been at the hands of the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office for more than two years. The prosecution office headed by Donika Prela has made no arrests, despite the clear proof of several crimes committed by senior party and government officials, as well as public officers and crime bosses, in all four series of wiretaps published this year.

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