Former Interior Minister found guilty of office abuse, cleared of organized crime charges

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 20, 2019 09:50

Former Interior Minister found guilty of office abuse, cleared of organized crime charges

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  • Since he had previously agreed on a shortened judgment, the sentence was then converted to three years and four months of probation period.

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TIRANA, Sept. 20 – The Serious Crimes Court decided to sentence on Thursday evening  former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri to five years in prison. 

Since he had previously agreed on a shortened judgment, the sentence was then converted to three years and four months of probation period. 

Tahiri is also prohibited from exercising public office for the same period.

Last week, the prosecution  sought a 12-year prison sentence, charging the former minister with at least three serious offenses: “narcotics trafficking committed in co-operation in the form of a structured criminal group”; “participation in a structured criminal group” and “committing the offense in a structured criminal group.” 

However, the court overturned these charges, finding that there was no evidence to support the allegations, but that they were, according to the judges, sufficient to convict Tahiri of abuse of power.

The former MoI was investigated in November 2017 on suspicions of being linked to the Habilaj brothers, his cousins, who were part of an Italian-Albanian organization that trafficked marijuana from Albania to Italy. 

Investigations began after Italian authorities struck the organization in Catania, and in the wiretaps Tahiri’s name was mentioned several times in conversations between traffickers.

The prosecution urged Tahiri’s arrest, but most Left Party lawmakers rejected the claim, claiming it had not presented any evidence. 

Last year’s May, Tahiri resigned his  lawmaker’s mandate and soon after the prosecution again demanded his arrest. 

Tahiri spent a brief period under house arrest, until the Court of Appeals allowed his free trial, which was closed last February.

BothTahiri and his lawyer have insisted on his innocence, saying the prosecution failed to provide concrete evidence in support of the charges. 

Meanwhile, after the court decision Tahiri appeared surprised. 

“For two years I was investigated as part of a criminal group that dealt with drug trafficking, today the court says that since my cousins ​​used my name, I was abusing my office. I am astonished that the Court is holding me accountable because some of my cousins ​​used my name,” said Tahiri, announcing that he would appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. 

Shortly after the court ruled for the former interior minister, the opposition’s Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha also reacted, saying the decision was shameful. 

“The shameful decision not to do justice to Edi Rama’s right hand, who filled Albania with drugs and turned it into a stain of black crime in Europe, proves that justice in Albania is Edi Rama’s hostage, and Edi Rama is hostage to crime,” wrote Basha in a Facebook post, tweeting that  
“today’s ruling confirms that Edi Rama did everything in his power to protect Saimir Tahiri because Saimir Tahiri holds Rama hostage with his corruption and crime files.”

While the former MoI was unhappy with the final court ruling, the decision was a slap for the Serious Crimes Prosecution, which after nearly a year and a half of investigations, could not, according to the court’s own assessment, support in evidence, the serious accusations she made against Tahiri.

US Embassy: “Tahiri’s conviction is discouraging” 

Although the US Embassy to Tirana said the verdict against Tahiri demonstrates a growing independence of the judiciary, the conviction itself is ultimately discouraging.

“Yesterday’s verdict against former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri demonstrates the growing independence of the judiciary and the beginning of the end of impunity for the well-connected.  While Mr. Tahiri’s conviction on abuse of office charges signals an important step forward, the sentencing is discouraging given the seriousness of the charges. Those who abuse the public trust and violate the law should face meaningful consequences.  The United States will continue to partner with Albania in support of further progress on justice reform, transparency, and good governance,” said a press release.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 20, 2019 09:50