Dritan Zagani is a police officer, born in Shkodra, and chief of the anti-drugs unit in the Police Commissariat in Fier – an difficult and risky job, caught between paid informants and potentially corrupt colleagues, and with a salary just above poverty level.
But he believes and tries to do his job well, even though he has long been doubting that someone is leaking his operations. That’s why he has started to pass information to his colleagues at the Albanian mission of the Guardia di Finanza, hoping that they can at least arrest the Albanian criminals crossing to Italy.
Just like every day, on May 1, 2014 at 5pm, he closes the door of his small office at the Commissariat in Fier, and drives with his old car to Vlora, where he lives with his two elderly parents, his wife, and three daughters, in an apartment in the Skela neighborhood.
A simple dinner, some short conversation before the television, and then to bed. He has no money or desire to go out on the streets of Vlora.
Saimir Tahiri is an ambitious young man, son of a pharmacist, who, after a fruitless attempt to study in Italy, falls into a long nervous breakdown, return to Albania, and finishes a law degree at the University of Shkodra. His very first job is as spokesperson of the Socialist Party and executive director of the Qemal Stafa Foundations, founded by the PS. In 2009, before he’s even 30, he become PS deputy in Parliament. It’s well known that to enter politics you need to know people, and Saimir becomes a regular sight in the night life of Tirana, where he meets the celebrities of the town.
Saimir is practical, and thanks to the acquaintances from his night life, he organizes the team that has to “protect the vote” during the 2013 elections. As a reward, Prime Minister Edi Rama gives him the Ministry of Interior.
He becomes the longest serving Minister of Interior in the history of Albania, thanks to a perfect public relations strategy, which started with the triumphant entry of the police into Lazarat, continued with the spectacular fairs organized by the police, and traffic police distributing flowers to female drivers on Women’s Day.
Of course there are also worries, such as the criticism of his unkept promise to close all casinos in the center of the city, or the bomb explosion near the pharmacy of his father, which was followed by the immediate arrest of a number of criminals who were freed quickly afterward, or the string of C4 attacks without culprits, or, finally, the constant accusations (unfounded, according to his party) that he had given free rein to the cultivation of cannabis in Albania, up to air transports by places.
A particular headache was caused by that police officer from Vlora, who accused him of giving his car – his coverage – to his cousins in Vlora, which Saimir considered honorable fruit and vegetable traders. But his role as minister and his political power deriving from his close relations with the prime minister gave him the possibilities to easily dispose of this problem, citing approving reports from the Guardia di Finanza, which denied the drug problems.
But when the opposition threatens to boycott the elections, it manages get rid of him, and after the electoral triumph of his party, Saimir Tahiri failed to secure a post as minister, and has to satisfy himself with coordinating the famous co-governance project of the prime minister, a useless invention without meaning or real power.
At one o’clock after midnight, Dritan Zagani’s door bell rings. There’s a lot of noise – many people speak from the other side of the door.
From the inside, Dritan asks who they are, and they answer open the door, because they are his colleagues who have come with an arrest warrant. Dritan doesn’t want to open. His education as officer told him that the Albanian law doesn’t allow arrests to be made between 22:00 and 05:00, except when the arrestees are armed and dangerous. His colleagues insist upon entering, but don’t use force (they know what they are doing to their colleague isn’t nice, and perhaps not even legal). Dritan continues to say they are not allowed to arrest him at that hour.
No one shows him an arrest warrant issued by the court, and no one tells him why they want to arrest him.
The whole building wakes up from the noise of the police, the shouts and the cries of his daughters, and everyone gets into stairway to understand what’s going on, while dozens of police officers from Tirana under the direction of the Chief of Internal Control of the Ministry of Interior smoke cigarettes and chat outside.
As the tension rises further, Dritan faints, falling on the floor. His wife, scared, opens the door to ask the police for help, and many of them enter the apartment, his daughters cry, his wife screams, while his parents look on in silence, fearful of memories from times they thought long gone.
They put him on the couch and bring him back, while everyone calms down. He asks and manages to convince his colleagues to only have a small group of officers in the small apartment. The remaining 6 of them continue with some type of search, and box up all electronic equipment they can find, drives, memory cards, a lap top, and a camera.
Dritan insists on at least receiving a report of the search and the things the police wants to confiscate, equipment acquired with difficulty through his professional zeal, or gifts from friends at the Guardia di Finanza, which will never be returned to Dritan.
Dritan is still not fully conscious, and they take him to the hospital in Vlora, where after analysis they discover all his blood sugar levels had dropped from the stress. They give him a drip and after two hours they put him in a police car, and bring him at 5 in the morning to the directorate of the Tirana Police, without allowing him to contact anyone, and without any explanation.
On October 16, 2017 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri rushes to finish a regular working day as chairman of the PS in Tirana, between meetings with militants and politicians, or photo opportunities with the journalists that follow him, or a work meeting, when someone tells him that Dritan Zagani has just written on his Facebook that Moisi Habilaj, Saimir’s cousin, has been arrested in an investigation of the anti-mafia prosecution of Catania in Sicily.
Dritan’s post electrifies that Albanian media, and immediately politics starts its game of insults, soon to be worsened by media reports about several wiretaps of Habilaj in which he claims to have the protection of Saimir, that he uses the Albanian police for drug transports, and has switched off the naval radars to avoid problems during the sea transport of drugs from Albania to Italy. One of the wiretaps has registered that Habilaj has to pay €30,000 to Saimir, even though he makes more than €5 million per month.
The opposition immediately publishes a 416-page report from the anti-mafia prosecution in Catania, suggesting it has received from the Italian secret services, which gives the entire story a new dimension, and international settling of diplomatic scores.
The Socialist Party is suddenly reluctant to politically support Saimir, and the party top is huddled together in several meetings, of course behind closed doors. The media celebrate with stories of imaginary confrontations, backstabbing, threats, the involvement of entire government, etc. Saimir himself, leaving his home, feeds the rumors about a confrontation of forces within the Socialist Party, by responding laconically to journalists asking him about the lightning-fast accusation issued by the Albanian prosecutor for participation in a criminal group: You have seen nothing yet.
The Commission for Mandates and Immunities in Parliament, urgently convened to consider the prosecution’s request to lift Saimir’s immunity, in order to search his house and arrest him, was smartly turned into a show process in which the prosecutors became the accused in a well-orchestrated and prepared line of defense that keeps a distance from the former minister without abandoning him: investigate but don’t arrest.
A few days later, Parliament would approve in a plenary session the decision that Saimir Tahiri would be allowed to prepare his defense in freedom, first of all within the Socialist Party, and later, if he manages to keep his political support unabated, the Albanian courts won’t be able to do anything else, because the government will start vetting and of those prosecutors and political enemies not even a shadow will remain.
After three days of arrest (the legal term is 48 hours) at the Police of Tirana, Dritan Zagani is visited by a criminal defense lawyer, perhaps called by a colleague, who confirms that he has been arrested for abuse of office and suspicion of collaborating with criminal groups. He is brought to the Court of Serious Crime where his arrest is confirmed.
For the next six months and eight days Dritan will remain in jail waiting uselessly for anyone, prosecutor or investigator, to interrogate him. Meanwhile, after changing lawyer, he discovers that the “criminal groups” with whom he collaborated are the officers of the Guardia di Finanza, stationed in Albania to assist the Albanian police.
After another year under house arrest, and after many “advisory warnings” for the health of his family, and seeing that his dossier has passed from the Prosecution of Serious Crimes to the one in Fier, sustained solely on the accusation of abuse of office, and moves forward very slowly and without guarantee, Dritan takes his family and moves to Switzerland, where he receives political asylum, the status of someone who has fled his country to escape political persecution.
Saimir Tahiri celebrates on the streets together with his supporters that call him on the streets, unmoved by the weight of the accusations, enters his luxury car and publishes a festive selfie from his apartment surrounded by media personalities – the photos show the luxury Saimir surrounds himself with and the worries of those who awaited him.
Now the ball is in the court of the prosecution of Catania, which continues its careful investigations. To protect Saimir, and with him the entire chain of government, the Albanian government needs pray and beg that the mercy of actual innocence will be given and that further publication of embarrassing information, which will further feed the heated and hungry public and opposition, will be avoided.
The difference, if you have noticed, is power. For dignity, on the contrary, there is no Mastercard.