Tahiri Verdict Shows A Captured Judiciary Unbothered By Reform In Albania

Tahiri Verdict Shows A Captured Judiciary Unbothered By Reform In Albania
US Ambassador Donald Lu and former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri

The verdict in the case against former Minister of Interior and right hand of Prime Minister Edi Rama has shown clearly, for all to see, what a captured judiciary looks like. Accused of membership of a criminal organization and international drug trafficking, Tahiri was eventually – after “deliberations” taking hours – convicted for a completely different crime, abuse of office. He received a suspended sentence of 3 years and 4 months.

The Rama government has done everything in its power to obstruct the investigation into the Tahiri case. One of the main whistleblowers, police chief Dritan Zagani, had to flee the country and apply for political asylum in Switzerland while the government’s dirt machineran on full power whenever he revealed details of his testimony.

Parliament blocked the request of the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office to arrest Tahiri pending the investigation and search his property, giving Tahiri valuable time to destroy evidence, while turning Parliament into a quasi-tribunal pre-judging the case. Also the revocation of Tahiri’s passport was soon annulled, allowing him to travel out of the country. In the meantime, Parliament adopted even broader immunity for itself against future investigations of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution.

Subsequently, Temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku, a controversial appointment by the Socialist majority, removed without justification one of the main investigators, Besim Hajdarmataj, from the case.

All in all, the Tahiri case was a test case for the reformed judiciary, and it may seem clear that the reform has not brought the promised change. Before the reform started, supporters argued that the very threat of vetting would force judges to adjust their verdict and adhere to the law, lest they be dismissed by the vetting commissions. Yesterday’s verdict shows that judges have an even greater fear from politicians and their criminal networks.

It was promised that the new judiciary would catch “big fish,” and the Tahiri case was expected to be the first. In 2017, former ambassador Donald Lu declared: “Allow me to say two words about the current polemics surrounding former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri. All you are seeing how history is being written.” In 2018, the US Embassy releasedthe following public statement:

[W]e expect the rule of law to apply to the ongoing investigation of Saimir Tahiri. The United States remains committed to Albania’s future. #WhosNext.

We will now see how the guardian angels of the justice reform will respond to this travesty of justice, a conviction for something Tahiri was not even accused of! So far, the social media accounts of the internationals have remained silent, trying to figure out how to least taint the “spotless” reputation of the Rama government.

For a moment I thought that the Rama government would use the Tahiri case to trumpet its accomplishments in the justice reform by allowing him to be sentenced to the maximum 12 years. They would then use this conviction as an argument to open EU accession negotiations in October, after which Tahiri would be released after his appeal.

The problem with this scenario is that nearly all the Serious Crimes Appeals Court judges have been vetted, whereas in the lower court nearly all still need to pass. Perhaps the risk was too high that any serious conviction of Tahiri would be confirmed during his appeal. Or perhaps Rama became too scared of what Tahiri – who has been dropping hints throughout his trial – might reveal. A suspended sentence for abuse of office seems to make everyone happy: Tahiri stays free, while Rama can still say the justice reform “worked,” somehow.

By the way, let us also no forget that Tahiri’s lawyer, Maks Haxhia has been part of the Steering Committee of EURALIUS, which consults on the justice reform, while the National Chamber of Advocacy (DhKA), which Haxhia chairs, recently benefited €11 million from the government buying back a piece of property it had gifted to the DhKA, in violation of the law. No complaints so far.

So, all in all, Tahiri’s court case and verdict is a microcosm of the actual effects of the justice reform: a class justice system captured by politics and crime; a system where the big fish swim free, while little fish spend days rotting pretrial detention under “inhuman and degrading” conditions (according to the Council of Europe); a system in which high-profile lawyers double as real estate brokers to the government.

I can’t wait for that tweet of Luigi Soreca praising all these accomplishments!

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