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Ending impunity for grand corruption in the Western Balkans and Turkey

S. Tahiri - Ending impunity for grand corruption in the Western Balkans and Turkey

S. Tahiri

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Introduction

From 2013 to 2017, police in Italy and Albania seized large amounts of the illicit drug cannabis.

Country
Albania
Sector
Public Institutions
Offence
Narcotics trafficking
Phase
1st instance verdict

Timeline

Suspicion
Official detection
Prelim. investigation
Investigation
Settlement
Indictment filed
Court accepts case
1st instance procedure
1st instance verdict
2nd instance procedure
2nd instance verdict
3rd instance procedure
3rd instance verdict
Extraordinary remedy
Pardon
Enforcement
No charges have been submitted
No criminal procedures

Main Details of the Offence Committed

From 2013 to 2017, police in Italy and Albania seized large amounts of the illicit drug cannabis.

In response, the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office in Tirana launched a criminal proceeding for narcotics trafficking committed in collaboration as a structured criminal group. The defendant was Albanian citizen Saimir Tahiri, who served as interior minister for the Republic of Albania from 11 September 2013 to 19 March 2017. Also involved in the case was the director of the local police station in Vlorë as Tahiri’s collaborator.

According to the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office, the two defendants helped a structured criminal group by abusing their supervisory state functions. They removed obstacles and gave information to narcotics growers and traffickers, which prolonged the trafficking.

The prosecution’s evidence includes interceptions and chat communications in which other defendants talk about gifts and sums of money for Tahiri and his family members. In one conversation, a defendant says that “cousins of the minister” guarantee the cultivation of narcotics and he claims to have connections to the “director”, who guarantees protection in return for a 30 per cent share of the narcotics.

Evidence in the court files also includes valuable gifts allegedly given to Tahiri and expenses for repair of the marine vessel Auras, which Tahiri used. These expenses were covered by other defendants, the Habilaj brothers, who are Tahiri’s cousins. Tahiri also lent the Habilaj brothers his car, whose use appears in the court files.

Further evidence, which includes wiretapping, telephone interceptions and transcripts of chat communications, indicates that the narcotics cultivation and trafficking were carried out with the support and collaboration of police officers and other officials. These are often referred to in the interceptions as “the state”.

In March 2019, the case went to court, which applied the abbreviated judgement procedure. This meant that the case could be tried based on the evidence obtained during the preliminary investigation.

  • Narcotics trafficking committed in collaboration as part of a structured criminal group (Article 333/a, paragraph 2 of the Albanian Criminal Code)
  • Commission of criminal offences by criminal organisations and structured criminal groups (Article 334/1 of the Albanian Criminal Code)
  • Abuse of office (Article 248 of the Albanian Criminal Code)

The court stated in its reasoning for convicting Tahiri of abuse of office that he had a duty as interior minister to prevent and combat criminal activity, especially illegal narcotics trafficking. The court listed the laws and by-laws that cover the role and competences of the interior minister, and found that Tahiri had voluntarily failed to perform his legal duties.

The laws and by-laws referred to in the court’s decision are:

  • Law no. 90/2012, dated 27 September 2012, “On the organisation and functioning of the public administration”
  • Law no. 9000, dated 30 January 2003, “On the organisation and functioning of the Council of Ministers”
  • Decision of the Council of Ministers no. 942, dated 9 October 2013, “On the definition of the public responsibility of the interior minister”;
  • Law no. 9861, dated 24 January 2008, “On the control and supervision of the state border”
  • Law no. 9749, dated 4 June 2007, “On the state police (in force until 28 February 2015)
  • Law no. 108/2014, dated 31 July 2014, “On the state police”
  • Decision of the Council of Ministers no. 750, dated 16 September 2015, “On the approval of the regulation of the state police”

Tahiri held the position of deputy in the Albanian Parliament at the time of the criminal proceeding. However, the offence for which he was charged was allegedly carried out during his tenure as interior minister.

2013-2017

Public Institutions (Law Enforcement Agencies, State Police)

Jurisdiction(s)

The case went to the Court of First Instance for Serious Crimes, which issued its decision on 19 September 2019. The decision has since been appealed to the Court of Appeals for Serious Crimes.

Procedural Details

1st instance judgement

The decision was appealed. On 26 June 2019, the Special Court of Appeal revoked the decision of the Serious Crimes Court on and sent the case for retrial before the Special Court against Corruption and Organised Crime.

On 17 October 2017, the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office registered the criminal proceeding no. 313 against Tahiri for “narcotics trafficking” committed in collaboration as a “structured criminal group”.

There were several criminal proceedings against many suspects, so some proceedings were merged and some were separated.

The Serious Crimes Prosecution Office sent to the Parliament of the Republic of Albania a request no. 9906 Prot., dated 19 October 2017, “for authorisation of the arrest, personal and house search of Deputy Saimir Tahiri”. The prosecution wanted to conduct a complete and thorough investigation as part of criminal proceeding no. 313 on the criminal offences of “narcotics trafficking” committed in collaboration as a “structured criminal group” and “passive corruption of high officials”.

Parliament thought the Prosecution Office did not have enough evidence to arrest the former interior minister and voted against the request. However, Parliament did authorise the personal and house search, prohibit Tahiri from leaving the country and force him to register with the judicial police.

The house search of Tahiri was carried out on 26 October 2017. Also, the Court for Serious Crimes issued decision no. 97, dated 12 May 2018, on a house arrest measure against Tahiri, but the Court of Appeals for Serious Crimes revoked the measure.

Both the prosecutors and Tahiri appealed decision no. 60 of the Court of First Instance for Serious Crimes, dated 19 September 2019, to the Court of Appeals for Serious Crimes. The case was set to be tried by the Special Court of Appeals for Organised Crime and Corruption. However, the trial has been postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The United States Embassy in Albania made a statement on the day before the Court of Appeals for Serious Crimes revoked Tahiri’s house arrest (27 May 2018), saying that the judges in the case were being pressured and offered bribes.

Media reports also raised questions about the difference between the decision of the Court of First Instance for Serious Crimes to imprison Cela, the former director of the police station in Vlorë, but to give probation to Tahiri. Both men were found to violate the same article of the criminal code. The final court judgement was considered “discouraging” by the US Embassy.

Outcome of the Case

The Court of First Instance for Serious Crimes issued decision no. 60, dated 19 September 2019:

1) The defendant Tahiri was declared guilty of the criminal offence of “abuse of office”, provided for in Article 248 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

2) Tahiri was declared innocent of the criminal offence of “structured criminal group”, provided for in Article 333/a, paragraph two of the Criminal Code, as he was not proved to have committed the criminal offence for which he stood accused, in accordance with Article 388, point 1, letter d of the Criminal Procedure Code.

  • Article 283/a “Trafficking of narcotics”: Import, export, transit and trade of narcotics and psychotropic substances and narcotic plant seeds in contradiction with the law shall be punishable by imprisonment of seven to fifteen years.
  • Article 334/1 “Commission of criminal offences by criminal organisations and structured criminal groups”: Commission of criminal offences by members of a criminal organisation or structured criminal group shall be sentenced according to the respective criminal provisions by augmenting the sentence for the committed offence by five years of imprisonment, as well as the fine in the measure of one third, but without exceeding the maximum limit of the prison sentence.
  • Article 333/a “Structured criminal group”: Participation in a structured criminal group shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of two to five years.
  • Article 248 “Abuse of office”: Deliberate accomplishment or non-accomplishment of actions or failures to act, in violation of the law and constituting the failure of a person who carries out public functions to do his duties regularly, in cases when it has brought unjust material or non-material benefit to him or other persons or when it has caused damage to the legitimate interests of the state, citizens and other legal entities, when it does not constitute another criminal offence, shall be punishable by imprisonment of up to seven years.

The three prosecutors in the case requested the court:

  • to declare Tahiri guilty of the criminal offence of “narcotics trafficking” committed in collaboration as a “structured criminal group”, provided for in Articles 283/a/1 and 28/4 of the Criminal Code, and to sentence him to seven years’ imprisonment
  • to declare Tahiri guilty of the criminal offence of “committing criminal offences by a criminal organisation or structured criminal group”, provided for in Article 334/1 of the Criminal Code, and to add five years of imprisonment
  • to declare Tahiri guilty of the criminal offence of “structured criminal group”, provided for in Article 333/a/2 of the Criminal Code, and accordingly to sentence him to two years’ imprisonment
  • in accordance with Article 55 of the Criminal Code on sentencing for several criminal offences, to convict Tahiri with one sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment
  • in accordance with Article 406/1 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states that Tahiri’s sentence shall be reduced by one third, to sentence him ultimately to eight years’ imprisonment

Tahiri was declared guilty of the criminal offence of “abuse of office” provided for in Article 248 of the Criminal Code. Based on Article 406, paragraph one of the Criminal Procedure Code concerning abbreviated judgement, Tahiri’s prison sentence was reduced by one third and he was consequently sentenced to three years and four months’ imprisonment.

Then, based on Article 59 of the Criminal Code, Tahiri’s prison sentence was suspended and he was put on probation for three years on the condition that he commit no other criminal offence during the period and that he remain in contact with the probation service.

The court also disqualified Tahiri from holding public office for three years, based on Article 35, paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code, starting on the date that the decision was made final and taking into consideration that his prison sentence was suspended.

Article 31/5 of Law no. 8331, dated 21 April 1998, “On the execution of penal decisions” as amended, provides that when the court decides to suspend a decision with a prison sentence and to substitute probation, it shall immediately send the prosecutor an abbreviated decision for immediate execution. For the duration of the probationary period, the convicted individual who has been placed on probation shall report regularly to the probation service, which in turn shall periodically inform the local structures of the state police. So, according to this law, enforcement should have begun, but there is no information on the actual execution of the decision.