By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
High Court President Zaganjori’s Confirmation Shows Double Standards of Vetting

On July 24, the Independent Qualification Commission (KPK) confirmed high Court president Xhezair Zaganjori in spite of objections from the International Monitoring Operation. On September 27, the KPK published the verdict, more than a month after the legally mandated deadline.

Compared with previous verdicts, in which judges and prosecutors were dismissed for even a single point of doubt about their asset declarations, it is clear that in the case of Zaganjori a wholly different set of standards was applied.

First there is an apartment, bought in in 2001 for 500,000 lekë, declared in Zaganjori’s asset delcaration of 2003 for 7.4 million lekë, and in his vetting declaration for 5.8 million lekë. Finally, after questions of the KPK, Zaganjori declared to have spent 9.1 million lekë on the apartment, while maintaining that the 2001 value of 500,000 was only “symbolic.” As a result, Zaganjori evaded property taxes.

Nevertheless, the KPK concludes:

The administrative investigation of the Commission shows changes in the asset declaration of [Zaganjori] over the years in relation to the declarations made in the vetting declarations. These changes are not valued to be fundamental to such an extent that the conclusion should be drawn that we are dealing with a constitutional cause to impose dismissal.

[…]

At first sight, the impression is created that the sales contracts from 2001 are fictional […] because they have been created by the parties only with the aim of formal registering the real estate in the public registry. […] [T]hese contracts may be considered fictional, but did not aim to deceive. 

Zaganjori also owned a shop in the same building, again with different values on different asset declarations, and with a “fictional” sales contract of 500,000 lekë. In this case, the KPK even goes as far to argue that Zaganjori’s tax evasion was “legal”:

Just like the argumentation above about the apartment in the same building, the Commission assesses that, regardless of the fact that the real value of the service unit is not the one envisioned in the sales contracts, the reason of this contract was tax evasion. Considering the absence of the legal requirement for a reference price, the subject cannot be blamed for the fact that he has been able to profit from the legal loopholes to his favor.

In the same building, Zaganjori also co-owned an office with his wife, again with inconsistent asset declarations. Again the KPK gives him the benefit of the doubt:

In its analysis, the conclusion is drawn that [Zaganjori] has not been precise in his declarations over the years, but one cannot argue in favor of the disciplinary measure of dismissal from office, because there is no doubt about hiding assets or income.

However, a substantial part of Zaganjori’s income is derived from renting out the rest of the building, through rental contracts that are not notarized. But again the KPK says that that is not Zaganjori’s mistake, because they were signed “when there was no legal norm that obliged contractual parties in a juridical rent relation” to notarize their contracts.

In other words, the KPK considers Zaganjori “fictional contracts” as “legal tax evasion” and does not doubt he is hiding any assets or income. However, the only way in which the KPK can ever formulate such doubt is by evidence. And the evidence clearly shows tax evasion and the possibility of hiding income through unnotarized rental contracts. There is no other way for the KPK to doubt except through evidence, but all  Zaganjori’s evidence is given the benefit of the doubt.

And it get worse.

For an apartment in Durrës costing $32,000 Zaganjori claimed to have paid in part with $16,000 withdrawn from a bank account at Intesa Sanpaolo. The bank, however, denies that this withdrawal was ever made. So where did the money come from? The KPK does not refer to the bank’s records, but claims that Zaganjori’s asset declarations show that the withdrawal must have happened!

Futhermore, Zaganjori made a downpayment for an apartment in Shkodra for $35,000 but never signed a contract. The KPK concludes: “[Zaganjori] has not presented a contract established according to the Albanian legislation in force.” However, this is explained away by the fact that he paid the money as “investment” to a close friend “in good faith.” That he violated the law again doesn’t seem to matter. But for the President of the High Court, a function one would assume requires a squeaky-clean past, Zaganjori seems to have a rather big appetite for agreements that skirt (or cross) the boundaries of the law.

Throughout, Zaganjori has made inexact asset declarations by changing the value of his property several times over the years; he was unable to justify the acquisition of an apartment in Durrës of $32,000; he has no notarized documentation to prove his income from renting out apartments; he has no contract for a downpayment on an apartment in Shkodra.

The leniency shown by the KPK is suspect, especially since a two weeks after his confirmation, Zaganjori launched an arguably illegal call for proposals to fill up the High Judicial Council. Had he been fired, the current constitutional crisis would have been even deeper than it is today. It is therefore not unlikely that the KPK was requested to let Zaganjori “pass” just to avoid further disasters down the road. But in truth, the confirmation of Zaganjori has set a dangerous precedent in which “good faith” trumps verifiably illegal actions.