Another Constitutional Court judge risks expulsion under Albania’s judiciary reform

Another Constitutional Court judge risks expulsion under Albania’s judiciary reform

TIRANA, May 8 – Another Constitutional Court judge risks being ousted by the Independent Qualification Commission under the judiciary reform for not justifying his declared wealth based on the accumulated income throughout the years of working in the judicial system.

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Poland offers support on first negotiation chapters as Albania awaits green light on accession talks

Poland offers support on first negotiation chapters as Albania awaits green light on accession talks

TIRANA, May 7 – Poland has reconfirmed its support to Albania’s EU integration bid as the country awaits a decision by EU leaders to open long-awaited accession talks amid skepticism by some key Western members, offering its expertise on the

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19 charged in crackdown of Greek-Albanian drug ring

19 charged in crackdown of Greek-Albanian drug ring

TIRANA, May 6 – Greek police say they have busted a criminal gang of 19 people, which included five Albanians and which trafficked cannabis and cocaine in several Greek locations. The police report said 12 of the arrested were Greek

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Cocaine-transporting company owner arrested in Germany

Cocaine-transporting company owner arrested in Germany

TIRANA, May 6 – Arber Çekaj, owner of the banana-importing company Arbi Garden whose container was transporting 613 kg of Europe-bound cocaine from Colombia back in February, was arrested on Saturday in Germany. Çekaj had reportedly left the country a

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Anti-communists, Hoxha nostalgics clash over display of former dictator’s photos

Anti-communists, Hoxha nostalgics clash over display of former dictator’s photos

TIRANA, May 5 – The annual Martyrs’ Day commemoration on Saturday, was marked by clashes between anti-communists and a group of nostalgics holding pictures of Enver Hoxha, the country’s former communist dictator. The group, mainly consisting of elderly communists, was

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Tirana-based Western Balkan Fund supports first regional cooperation projects

Tirana-based Western Balkan Fund supports first regional cooperation projects

TIRANA, May 10 – Eighteen projects involving 84 partner organizations from the six EU aspirant Western Balkan have received the first funding from the Western Balkans Fund, one of the first regional international organization to have its seat in Tirana

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Three more join ranks of Albania’s resigned judges under judicial reform

Three more join ranks of Albania’s resigned judges under judicial reform

TIRANA, May 2 – Three more judges filed their resignation from the country’s justice system this week; two quoted health issues, while the third judge requested to retire due to old age. Brunilda Kasmi, Civil Court judge in Tirana, Merita

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Gjirokastra local officials involved in fist fight

Gjirokastra local officials involved in fist fight

TIRANA, May 3 – Gjirokastra Deputy Mayor Aurel Lapa was physically assaulted on Thursday by a Gjirokastra prefecture topographer, Shefqet Alikaj, concerning what the municipality’s report called his “personal, rather than institutional” problems. Local media reported the confrontation resulted in

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Four Albanians arrested in massive cannabis seizure in Italy

Four Albanians arrested in massive cannabis seizure in Italy

TIRANA, May 1 – The Italian coast guard said on Monday it seized approximately 2.5 tons of Albanian cannabis worth around €20 million in Salento’s coast, arresting four speedboat drivers and confiscating a Kalashnikov firearm and 30 bullets. The police

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Maritime border agreement negotiations resume between Albania and Greece

Maritime border agreement negotiations resume between Albania and Greece

TIRANA, May 2 – Greek media reported Albania and Greece are expected to reach a new maritime border agreement by the end of this month. Negotiations restarted on Monday in Tirana, with the first round of talks developing in what

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 8 - Another Constitutional Court judge risks being ousted by the Independent Qualification Commission under the judiciary reform for not justifying his declared wealth based on the accumulated income throughout the years of working in the judicial system. 

According to the IQC, close examinations of Fatmir Hoxha’s submitted paperwork prove the judge does not justify part of the money used to pay his only immobile property - an apartment in Tirana worth €140.000. 

Hoxha said he’d taken a soft bank loan and two additional loans from his brother-in-law and friend to afford the apartment, however the IQC found two amounts of ALL 1.7 million and ALL 275.000 whose sources are unjustifiable.

Hoxha’s lawyer said the first sum was gathered by selling Hoxha’s Shkodra apartment furniture, prior to his appointment as a judge in the Constitutional Court, while the second sum was said to have resulted from Hoxha’s wedding gifts in cash.

While there have been no allegations that Hoxha has had inappropriate connections, the IQC did find cases of delayed court decisions in his professional activity. 

Hoxha is the fourth Constitutional Court judge to undergo the vetting process -- out of the first three, only judge Vitore Tusha has positively met the IQC criteria concerning both accumulated wealth and cleanliness of figure. 

The final verdict concerning Hoxha’s future career as a judge will be given on Thursday. 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 7 – Poland has reconfirmed its support to Albania’s EU integration bid as the country awaits a decision by EU leaders to open long-awaited accession talks amid skepticism by some key Western members, offering its expertise on the first negotiating chapters through the Tirana Conference initiative.

The confirmation came on Monday by Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz who spoke at a foreign policy forum in Tirana with the Albanian Institute for International Studies, one of the country’s top think tanks, concluding his daylong visit to Albania where he me the country’s leaders.

“Albania is a NATO ally which has been making steady progress in reforms and we are ready to help you. Enlargement is a two-way process of conditions and reforms. If conditions are met, enlargement makes Europe stronger,” Czaputowicz told the AIIS foreign policy.

The Polish top diplomat described the 80 years of Polish-Albanian diplomatic relations as irregular due to interruptions under communism, but long-lasting and ever closer since Albania’s 2009 joining of NATO.

Albania and Poland established diplomatic relations in 1937 soon before WWII but ties between the two countries date back much earlier during the 15th century under Skanderbeg’s era when the two nations aligned against the Ottoman Empire. A Polish geologist who was killed after World War II by the communist regime of late dictator Enver Hoxha contributed to the Albanian discovery of oil and minerals in the first half of the 20th century. The author of Albania’s first geological map in use even today, Stanisław Zuber has been immortalized with a monument in the southern Albanian town of Kuçova.

Considered as the EU success story, Poland has offered to share its pre-accession experience with Albania under the Tirana Conference, an exchange of information and experience initiative on the first negotiating chapters involving the judiciary and fundamental rights as well as justice, freedom and security under Chapters 23 and 24.

"Poland strongly supports the EU membership of Albania and all of Western Balkan countries. We think the Albanian society should be given a clear message that the European Union welcomes Albania. We share the same story with Albania. We come from the same past regime and have joint interests," Czaputowicz said at an earlier press conference with his Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati.

"We are ready to offer our experience starting from the pre-accession period. The Tirana Conference, that is how we named it today, can also be held in Warsaw, in order to enable the bilateral exchange of information in all fields," said the Polish Minister.

Albania’s foreign minister Ditmir Bushati said the Tirana Conference would provide invaluable Polish experience on the first two negotiating chapters.

"The Tirana conference is invaluable assistance that Poland provides for Albania in the EU integration process, with a special focus on commitments stemming from Chapters 23 and 24 which will be the first negotiating chapters on EU accession," said Albania's foreign minister Bushati, adding that Serbia which has already opened talks, and Macedonia which is pending next June’s European Council decision on launching talks just like Albania, are also benefiting from Polish experience.

The Polish foreign minister also unveiled an Albania-Poland business forum is going to take place this month, the third in the past couple of years as the two countries examine opportunities to boost current modest trade and investment ties at a time when the number of Poles visiting Albania has registered the sharpest increase among foreign tourists.

The Poles made it to the top ten of foreign tourists visiting Albania last year, with a record 74 percent hike to about 115,000 tourists.

Poland’s foreign ministry says minister Czaputowicz’s visit to Tirana confirms Poland’s will to foster very good Polish-Albanian relations in economy, defense, culture and education.

“The visit also proves our appreciation for Albania’s successful efforts to open accession negotiations with the European Union, which have also been recognized by the European Commission in its April enlargement report. The EC paper contains an unconditional recommendation for the Member States to open accession negotiations with Albania, which Poland strongly supports,” said Poland’s foreign ministry.

Charter flights from Warsaw, Gdnask, Kotowice will link Poland to Tuirana from June to September 2018 when Poles are expected to remain among top foreign tourists to Albania.

“I am aware that tourism is an important sector of the economy. Albania is a beautiful country and Poles appreciate it, which is confirmed by an increasing number of my compatriots among tourists visiting your country,” minister Czaputowicz told an interview with Tirana Times ahead of his Tirana visit.

The Albanian and Polish prime ministers have met twice in official visits in Tirana and Warsaw during the past couple of years, discussing EU integration and economic cooperation which currently remains quite modest.

Polish foreign direct investment in Albania is estimated at only €2 million while the volume of trade exchanges between the two countries, overwhelmingly dominated by Albanian imports from Poland at about €63 million annually, according to central bank and INSTAT data.

Albert Rakipi, the head of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, says Polish Ambassador to Tirana, Karol Bachura, a career diplomat who has been very active in promoting Poland-Albania ties and Albania to Polish tourists, is the best indicator of the importance that Poland pays to relations with Albania.

A NATO ally and supporter of Albania’s EU integration bid, Poland has been one of the bloc’s most dynamic economies and success stories since joining the EU in 2004.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 6 - Greek police say they have busted a criminal gang of 19 people, which included five Albanians and which trafficked cannabis and cocaine in several Greek locations. 

The police report said 12 of the arrested were Greek citizens, five were Albanians, one Romanian and one Moldavian, while they trafficked drugs in Rhodes Island, Kos Island, Janina and Attica. 

It was also reported the police had been on the organization’s tracks since January 2017. According to the police, the organization involved two core groups: the first was led by a 63-year-old Greek citizen and nice of the arrested ranging from 24 to 62 years old, while the other was led by a 32-year-old woman from Albania and eight other people, among whom the Romanian and Moldovan.

The criminal network operated through the coordinated efforts of the two core groups based in Ioannina and Attica, who were mainly supplied with Albania-imported cannabis and cocaine. 

The illegal substances were kept at open storage spaces and were later transported to the islands through furniture or merchandise transport trucks.  

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 6 - Arber Çekaj, owner of the banana-importing company Arbi Garden whose container was transporting 613 kg of Europe-bound cocaine from Colombia back in February, was arrested on Saturday in Germany. 

Çekaj had reportedly left the country a few days before the biggest amount of cocaine ever seized by Albanian police was discovered in Durrës.

He told local media he had no connection with the cocaine found in his company’s containers, and that he would voluntarily give himself up to Albanian authorities. But he never did.

According to the police report, Çekaj was arrested by German police in a residential area close to Dusseldorf, where he lived under a different name.

The narcotics were thought to have been part of a wider drug trafficking network which begins in Colombia, transits through Italy and Malta and then, through Albanian organized crime gangs, passes on to the European market. 

At the time, police arrested two people -- the driver of the Arbi Garden truck and an employee of the company -- and called the operation an “undeniable success.”

Security experts say the seizures likely amount to only about 10 percent of all the drugs that manage to get trafficked through Albania.  

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 5 - The annual Martyrs’ Day commemoration on Saturday, was marked by clashes between anti-communists and a group of nostalgics holding pictures of Enver Hoxha, the country’s former communist dictator. 

The group, mainly consisting of elderly communists, was visiting the Nation’s Fallen Cemetery in annual ritual made controversial by Hoxha’s pictures. 

The anti-communists were mostly supporters of the main opposition Democratic Party. They were awaiting for DP leader Lulzim Basha and other officials to arrive when they saw the pictures. Screams and a physical attack on the people holding Hoxha’s portraits ensued. Police intervened to stop the brawl. 

Hoxha’s Stalinist regime was one of Europe’s most brutal communist dictatorships, resulting in the murder and political detention of tens of thousands of innocent Albanian men, women and children. 

“It’s like pouring salt into an open wound,” one of the anti-communists told local media. “The regime murdered my father and uncle simply because they wanted a free and democratic Albania.”

Communist dictatorship supporters, a tiny minority in Albania, have previously caused debate for showing up in public holding Hoxha portraits at public events; however, the violent clashes are an unprecedented event. 

Asked concerning DP followers’ action after the commemoration, Basha did not condemn their actions, but said his party is set to bring the law prohibiting public exhibition of communist symbols to parliament. 

Celebrated on May 5, Martyrs’ Day in Albania originates from May 5, 1942, when Qemal Stafa, whose activity became a symbol of the Anti-fascism National Liberation War, was killed by Italian Fascists forces. 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 10 – Eighteen projects involving 84 partner organizations from the six EU aspirant Western Balkan have received the first funding from the Western Balkans Fund, one of the first regional international organization to have its seat in Tirana that launched its operations last year as an international organization established by the six WB governments to promote regional cooperation.

The first 18 winning projects, supported by a total of €230,000, will promote sustainable and economic development, education and research as well as culture and sports for a one-year period, says the Western Balkan Fund.

Speaking at grant award ceremony held this week, Gjergj Murra, the executive director of the Western Balkan Fund, said the regional cooperation platform was now a reality that has started to deliver.

“In our assessment, the results of the [first] call are a clear sign that regional stakeholders are mature, willing and ready to cooperate. There is a strong need for support from civil society organizations. The decision to create the WBF was a timely one and very well accepted by our societies,” Murra was quoted as saying in a statement.

Albania’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ditmir Bushati said the winning projects will help enhance people-to-people contact and fight stereotypes.

“Through these projects we will be able to know each other better, to reduce negative stereotypes which are still prevalent in our societies and to build our future together,” said Bushati.

Almir Sahovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina's Assistant Minister for Multilateral Relations, said the projects will help improve people-to-people connectivity.

“This Fund is very important because it shows that our region is changing and our region is going towards European values and European perspectives,” Sahovic said.

“We have all been speaking a lot about the need of the increasing of the physical connectivity among our countries throughout our region. Also there is another important connectivity; connectivity among our people. And this is the main aim of our Fund,” he added.

The Western Balkans Fund will promote common values and develop regional cooperation between citizens, civil society and institutions of the Western Balkans region, providing a concrete “people-to-people” approach based on the already successful model of the Visegrad Fund, a Bratislava-based international organization founded in 2000 by the governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

“We want to give people and especially youth the possibility to know each other better and assist in the reconciliation process,” Gjergj Murra, the Albanian executive director has earlier said.

Another important regional organization, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office in the Western Balkans, has its seat in Albania. Established in 2016, the office aims to further encourage youth cooperation, mutual understanding and exchange of experiences, with a view to strengthening stability, sustainable development and progress in the Western Balkan region.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 2 - Three more judges filed their resignation from the country’s justice system this week; two quoted health issues, while the third judge requested to retire due to old age. 

Brunilda Kasmi, Civil Court judge in Tirana, Merita Xhani, judge in the Durres Court and Nazmie Pengili, of the Kruja Court, filed their resignation requests at the High Council of Justice. 

Pengili said her magistracy mandate ended on April 10, forcing her to exit the judiciary. Pengili has been formerly denied a judge mandate due to lack of legal grounds.

Local media also contacted Kasmi, a candidate for the High Judicial Council and on top of the list of names that were to undergo the judiciary vetting.

“I left for health reasons. Disease does not ask for permission. I want to clarify I haven’t had issues with my wealth,” Kasmi said.

In 2015, however, Kasmi was part of the 81 high officials who were fined for not declaring their wealth.

Kasmi is the second judge leaving the ranks of the HJC after Besim Trezhnjeva, who was ousted by the Independent Qualification Commission, meaning calls will now open to establish a new judiciary-ruling institution. 

Xhani also mentioned health problems as the roadblock in her judicial journey.

“I am sick. It has nothing to do with the vetting. I suffer heart problems and I’ve been receiving disability assistance the last two years,” Xhani said.

The High Council of Justice will also look into the files of judges Petraq Curri, Erqys Selami, Ahmet Jangulli and Ken Dhima, whom the justice minister has requested to be ousted. 

The country’s judicial system has seen six resignations so far, coming from high judge Mirela Fana to constitutional judge Besnik Imeraj, under the EU-aspiring judiciary reform that aims to test judges and prosecutors’ competence and cleanliness of figure. 

On Monday’s IQC session saw appeals prosecutor Fatjona Memcaj, who resulted to be a clean figure without any conflict of interest and who can justify her wealth according to all commission reports.

The issue of the collapsing justice system

The current situation of resignations, sackings and investigations has not lacked its side-effects, the most serious being the freezing of certain courts and the lack of existence of other judicial bodies foreseen under the justice reform.

The Constitutional Court, left with four judges, has been out of order over the last weeks, as six are needed to start a meeting and five to pass a decision. 

On Thursday, the latest CC judge was sacked for not passing the vetting process. Judge Altina Xhoxhaj did not justify her wealth, according to vetting officials. Xhoxhaj’s lawyer said she would appeal the decision. 

The High Court is in the same position, while eight institutions that were to be established under the judiciary reform are either still non-functional, half-established, or, in the worst case scenario, no one can say when they’ll be established, even though it’s been 20 months since constitutional changes were approved. 

Meanwhile, opposition members and critics alike have also noted nothing is being done to appoint a General Prosecutor, as Arta Marku was to be temporary and has yet to undergo the judiciary vetting herself. 

Another judicial body that was supposed to have been established under the judiciary reform is the SPAK, or the Special Structure Against Corruption and Organized Crime. This structure was to be assisted by the existence of a special prosecution and special investigation unit, however, seeing how the country’s judiciary is currently suffering lack of judges and prosecutors, these ‘special’ units remain a distant hope. 

 
                    [post_title] => Three more join ranks of Albania’s resigned judges under judicial reform 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-05-03 07:32:02
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 3 - Gjirokastra Deputy Mayor Aurel Lapa was physically assaulted on Thursday by a Gjirokastra prefecture topographer, Shefqet Alikaj, concerning what the municipality’s report called his “personal, rather than institutional” problems. 

Local media reported the confrontation resulted in bloody punches from Alikaj’s side, while the motivation behind his actions is alleged concern over competence to administer Gjirokastra’s pastures under his ownership. 

Pictures from Lapa’s office, where the fight took place behind closed doors, show pieces of broken vase and stains of blood on the floor, while it was reported the fight caused him face hematomas. 

Lapa had already pressed charges, but so far Alikaj has not been arrested or suspended from duty. 

Both men were transported to the hospital after being separated by other employees, where they are now being looked after until further investigations on the public scandal are conducted.

Although the municipality’s report called Alikaj’s motivation personal, Gjirokastra Mayor Zamira Rami told local media Lapa does not represent only a person, but the entire institution which was violated and, describing the event as unprecedented, called on police and the prosecution to punish Alikaj accordingly. 
                    [post_title] => Gjirokastra local officials involved in fist fight
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 1 - The Italian coast guard said on Monday it seized approximately 2.5 tons of Albanian cannabis worth around €20 million in Salento’s coast, arresting four speedboat drivers and confiscating a Kalashnikov firearm and 30 bullets. 

The police report stated it found and collected the entire cannabis amount -- ten crates the dealers threw underwater before being arrested and 105 crates left on board. 

Italian authorities, however, have not specified the drugs’ exact origin, although almost a month ago the area saw another crackdown on half a ton of cannabis coming from Albania. 

Italy is one of the top Albanian cannabis trafficking destinations, as cultivators and traffickers use the naval space between Vlora and Italy to unsuspectingly transport big amounts of cannabis, and other illicit drugs.

Similar seizures have been lately reported from the Albanian-Greek border too, according to Greek police, as hundreds of kilos of cannabis have been found in cars traveling to and from Albania. 

In these operations, Greeks have been arrested alongside Albanians; according to Greek police reports, around 1.3 tons of cannabis were seized in Albania’s neighboring areas. 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Four Albanians arrested in massive cannabis seizure in Italy 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-05-02 08:28:28
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 2 - Greek media reported Albania and Greece are expected to reach a new maritime border agreement by the end of this month. 

Negotiations restarted on Monday in Tirana, with the first round of talks developing in what Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati called a “constructive and cooperative climate.” 

Based on the new maritime border agreement Greece can set an Exclusive Economic Zone, which remains of great importance to official Athens.

The group of Albanian negotiators is led by foreign ministry representative Armand Skapi and Commander of the Marine Fleet. 

Other negotiation group members come from the ministry of defense, ministry of justice, the institutes of geography, archeology and geographical space, as well as the Police Deputy Chief Aida Hajna and other high officials. 

Greek media Skai also reported the negotiations will be ongoing during the following weeks, while Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias has made it clear one of the most important open-ended issues for Albania - the Cham issue - is out of the table for discussion. 

Expert-level negotiations were postponed as the country’s President Ilir Meta refused to authorize Bushati’s request two times in a row. 

“There was delays due to the internal situation and the need for a better reconciliation on our side. Next week expert-level negotiations will be held concerning the agreement, or the text for an agreement. Meanwhile, we keep working on all other fields,” Bushati told the Voice of America. 

After their meetings in Korca and Crete respectively, both Bushati and Kotzias have agreed the new maritime border agreement will be reached using the middle line principle to divide the naval space.

Agreements have already been reached with Greece on building cemeteries for the Greek soldiers who died in Albania during WWII, the apostille stamps, while the abrogation of the War Law with Albania is still expected by Athens. 

Another reason for reaching a new maritime border agreement with Greece is Albania’s aspiration to open accession negotiations with the EU as soon as possible after receiving an unconditionally positive recommendation by the European Commission. 

In this context Greece, which is part of the member states that unanimously need to approve the opening of negotiations for Albania’s EU bid, could put up barriers over the pending maritime border agreement to delay any opening of talks as a way to pressure Albania to speed up or become more flexible on the border issues.

 
                    [post_title] => Maritime border agreement negotiations resume between Albania and Greece
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            [post_date] => 2018-05-08 13:52:09
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, May 8 - Another Constitutional Court judge risks being ousted by the Independent Qualification Commission under the judiciary reform for not justifying his declared wealth based on the accumulated income throughout the years of working in the judicial system. 

According to the IQC, close examinations of Fatmir Hoxha’s submitted paperwork prove the judge does not justify part of the money used to pay his only immobile property - an apartment in Tirana worth €140.000. 

Hoxha said he’d taken a soft bank loan and two additional loans from his brother-in-law and friend to afford the apartment, however the IQC found two amounts of ALL 1.7 million and ALL 275.000 whose sources are unjustifiable.

Hoxha’s lawyer said the first sum was gathered by selling Hoxha’s Shkodra apartment furniture, prior to his appointment as a judge in the Constitutional Court, while the second sum was said to have resulted from Hoxha’s wedding gifts in cash.

While there have been no allegations that Hoxha has had inappropriate connections, the IQC did find cases of delayed court decisions in his professional activity. 

Hoxha is the fourth Constitutional Court judge to undergo the vetting process -- out of the first three, only judge Vitore Tusha has positively met the IQC criteria concerning both accumulated wealth and cleanliness of figure. 

The final verdict concerning Hoxha’s future career as a judge will be given on Thursday. 
            [post_title] => Another Constitutional Court judge risks expulsion under Albania’s judiciary reform
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