Were the KPK to fairly implement the law and spirit of the justice reform and not political orders, Prosecutor Donika Prela must be excluded from the justice system for hiding her income and failing to justify her assets.
A considerable part of her husband’s income, reflected in Ms. Prela’s declarations as source of her assets, was earned in violation of the law and was not possible to establish whether it was actually really earned, or it was just a fabricated declaration attempting to justify the Prela family’s expenses.
Annex Article D/3 of the Constitution states that for purposes of the justice system vetting process legitimate income will be considered only that for which taxes were paid:
“[…] Income shall only be considered legitimate if it has been declared and taxes have been paid. […]”
In her hearing with the vetting commission, Ms. Prela admitted that her husband Vangjel Prela had taken payments in cash by the Bruçi shpk construction company for about eight years – from January 2003 to December 2009, and from September to December 2011. In fact, it appears that his employment with the company was legally undeclared, given that not only were taxes for his income not paid, but his obligatory social security payments were also not made, which means that Mr. Prela’s was guilty of undeclared employment.
Ms. Prela’s asset declaration shows that her husband did not declare any payment of taxes for income from leasing his technical license to third parties. Moreover, the leasing appears to have been carried out with no formal act, no signed contract to define the conditions of license use and the related payments.
Ms.Prela’s husband’s undeclared income amounts to a total of about €50,000.
The Constitution prohibits the use of this income as legitimate source to justify Ms. Prela’s assets, which even without this problem show several serious issues, as we have reported previously.
Ms.Prela’s dismissal by the vetting commission on the basis of this problem should be an automatic obligation demanded by the constitution. Moreover, the KPK has implemented this constitutional standard in other cases. As the media reported yesterday, a while ago the KPK dismissed Korça Prosecutor Elsion Sadiku for the same reasons. The KPK’s ruling on his dismissal from the justice system stated:
“Despite the evidence […] like “(***)”dental clinic owner and her two clients’ notarial statements, list of dental clinic’s clients, photocopy of wife’s official employment record, answers in questionnaires, etc., it is not confirmed that the wife of the assessee […] was employed, and that she paid taxes during employment […]
As per Annex Article D/3 of the Constitution: “The assessee has to credibly explain the lawful origin of assets, property and income. Income shall only be considered legitimate if it has been declared and taxes have been paid. […]”
During the hearing with Ms. Prela, international observer Theo Jacobs questioned her husband’s source of income:
“Why was your husband paid in cash despite having a bank account? This might sound a trivial question but taxes were not paid. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. You explained that earlier, but I am underlining the taxes. Your husband paid taxes only for payments received to his bank account. Please make me understand whether your husband was a victim or part of a tax evasion scheme.”
Donika Prela did not deny Theo Jacobs’ implied allegations. Instead she ironically replied “I and my husband have been living in Albania and not in any of the EU countries”, clearly expressing her disregard of the law and of the standards expected from justice system officials who are supposed to hold accountable those that break the law. Even this low standard of integrity would be sufficient to dismiss her with regards to the professional proficiency of magistrates, which is one of the main three criteria in the vetting process.
Mr. Prela’s undeclared income amounts to a reasonable cause for a criminal investigation for tax evasion and possible laundering of money that might have derived from illegal sources, including corruption. Let’s keep in mind that only few weeks ago the Tirana Prosecution Office initiated criminal investigations for tax evasion into 30 persons, demanding arrests for 27 entrepreneurs, of which 15 were arrested and 12 were declared at large.
Instead of facing an investigation, the Prelas tried to cover tracks and avoid responsibility for Mr. Prela’s legal violations. During her hearing with the KPK, Ms. Prela stated that on June 30th, 2018, her husband had filed a civil lawsuit against his employee for not paying his social security contributions. The lawsuit was clearly filed after the KPK had already started Ms. Prela’s vetting process. Had the lawsuit been prompted by sincere concerns, Mr. Prela would have filed it several years ago.
The situation gets more complicated by the fact that in 2017 Mr. Prela bought an apartment in Durrës from the same Bruçi shpk company, – his employer against which he filed a lawsuit last summer, – for a price much lower than market average, and which he sold several months later for a €19,000 profit. Mr. Prela’s employment by Bruçi shpk cannot be proven, and the apartment purchase price cannot be justified, given the lack of an employment contract, as well as social security and income taxes not being paid.