The German newspaper Bild published today six wiretapped phone conversations between members of a criminal organization and party and government leaders in the region of Durrës.
Most notably, some of the conversations took place between Mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako, also head of the Socialist Party for the Durrës Region and Astrit Avdylaj, the boss of an international drug trafficking criminal organization, and his gang members.
Conversations show collusion between Dako and Avdylaj for manipulating the 2017 parliamentary elections, through vote-buying, voter intimidation and funding of the Socialist Party campaign. They also show Avdylaj to have direct access and control over heads of several local government institutions, who provide favors to him, including revocation of business fines.
Perhaps in the most damning revelation, the tapes show that Avdylaj crime organization was capable to include its own people in the Socialist Party’s parliamentary and mayoral candidates lists—at least one of them managed to be elected and now is an MP.
The leaked wiretaps are part of a prosecution investigation into the Avdylaj criminal group based in Shijak, a small city next to Durrës. They take place in the months before the general elections in 2017 in Albania.
The prosecution had initiated an investigation into the criminal group suspected of international drug trafficking and other charges. Several members of the group were arrested in 2018 and are now facing charges in an ongoing case.
However, interceptions have revealed that the group was in close connection and colluded with the governing Socialist Party officials on several criminal activities unrelated to the initial investigation.
The Avdylajs included its own candidates in the PS list of MPs and Mayors
In one of the conversations, criminal group leader Astrit Avdylaj appears to decide on who will be the Socialist Party candidates for MP. He included Ilir Ndraxhi in the PS list for MPs, who will represent the interests of the Avdylajs, in exchange for their full support to the PS campaign in Durrës.
Talking with the Mayor of Shijak, Ardian Kokomani, Avdylaj tells him that he has set a meeting with Mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako and others the next day. Avdylaj demands the Mayor to be present at the meeting, as they will all finalize the appointment of Ilir Ndraxhi as Socialist Party candidate to Member of Parliament. Several days later, Ndraxhi is confirmed as candidate for MP in Durrës.
Before the confirmation, Astrit Avdylaj talks with Ndraxhi’s brother and asks him whether they called Ilir Ndraxhi to confirm his candidacy. The brother says that they are waiting to get that confirmation from him (Astrit Avdylaj), to which Avdylaj replies that Mayor Dako has told him that it will be confirmed the next day.
Astrit Avdylaj: Ok, ok, I’m still waiting. To cut it short: he [Mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako] told me it will be done tomorrow. […] It’s a settled affair.
Ilir Ndraxhi was elected and is still a Member of Parliament since 2017.
Astrit Avdylaj further explains that they pushed with Mayor Dako for Elton Arbana, then head of the PS in Shijak, to be included in the PS list of candidates to MP, but that his ranking in the list won’t be very favorable.
Astrit Avdylaj: [Mayor Dako] told me [it will be decided] on the 25th [of that month]. Elton [Arbana] was there too. He told Elton that he had put him 10th or 11th [in the list].
Later the deal was changed, and Elton Arbana remained out of the list but was promised “something better.” He is now the PS Candidate for Mayor of Shijak in the 30 June 2019 elections.
“Prime Minister Edi Rama will be surprised by our results”
Avdylaj further says he has worked very hard to secure votes for the PS, and that they will be very proud in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama when he sees the results. Avdylaj promises that the PS will get the parliamentary seats for all 10 MPs from their region.
Astrit Avdylaj: We have to be very proud in front of the one high up [PM Edi Rama], who should see what we are up to, you know.
We will deliver him [Edi Rama] a 10 to 0 victory, and he himself will be surprised.
Threatening voters during the 2017 general elections
In another wiretap, crime boss Astrit Avdylaj is talking with the Head of the Water Management Agency in Durrës, Ivo Doçi. Avdylaj tells Doçi that he met with Mayor Dako and the local Head of the Socialist Party last night, and orders him to prepare a list of employees suspected to vote for the opposition Democratic Party. Avdylaj orders Doçi to have them all summoned the next day at their workplace, as Avdylaj would go there to threaten them to vote for the Socialist Party. The head of the agency says that he has already prepared the list of those employees, and that he will do as asked. Doçi also thanks Avdylaj for the great work, telling him “you are great!”
Astrit Avdylaj: You need to summon them and I will shake them up.
Ivo Doçi: I see. There is no question about it.
Astrit Avdylaj: Either they keep their jobs and vote for us, or they go home.
Ivo Doçi: You got all [names] apart and ready. I have prepared everything.
Buying votes in the 2017 general elections
In another call, Astrit Avdylaj talks with a voter, making sure that he and his family will vote for the PS MP candidate Ilir Ndraxhi, while also promising him money in exchange for the votes. The voter agrees.
Astrit Avdylaj: I called you about the vote, as you know. So, to keep it short, you shouldn’t tell to no one, including Gon Duka (opposition candidate in Durrës). […] We vote for the SP, for Ilir Ndraxhi.
[…] You know what I mean, right, you will get a coffee [slang for payment for votes].
The Avdylaj criminal organization decides on Mayor Dako’s agenda
Gang leader Avdylaj has the power to control and decide on Mayor Dako’s agenda. In a conversation between the two, Avdylaj tells him that Dako will cancel another meeting and meet with him instead, in order to “finish a job” for a mutual friend (a murder convict) at the Property Register Office. Mayor Dako asks whether Avdylaj is together with the friend at the time of the conversation, and accepts to change his agenda and meet them, according to Avdylaj’s demand.
Mayor Dako: I’m leaving now to [see] those guys in Ishëm [a city in Durrës county].
Astrit Avylaj: No, you listen now. We’ll postpone that for a little later as I am here now with the guys [with a murder convict and the head of Property Register Office].
Avdylaj is aware of Mayor Dako’s agenda. He asks Dako about his meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama the night before. In their conversations, Avdylaj and Dako call each other “bro.”
Astrit Avdylaj: Did you get any sleep last night bro, given that you met Rama yesterday, spent quite some time together, and you had a ball.
Mayor Dako: Hehehe, what’s up?
The criminal group orders state authorities to revoke business fines
In another wiretapped conversation an angry Astrit Avdylaj appears to be in total control of state authorities in Durrës and Shijak cities. Talking with the Head of the PS in Shijak, Elton Arbana, he demands that he makes the necessary calls to revoke a business fine given by a Durrës Municipality official. Avdylaj says he can’t contact Vangjush Dako at the moment, as the Mayor is in Switzerland with Prime Minister Edi Rama. Avdylaj demands Arbana to do what he was told, otherwise Avdylaj will make the call himself. Arbana agrees.
Astit Avdylaj: Tell him: “You son of a bitch, you went there and fined the farm today,” like 5 million lek [4 thousand euro] bro.
Gjushi [Mayor Dako] is not here; he is with Edi [Rama] in Switzerland, you see what I mean?
You tell him he made a mistake. [Tell him] to revoke the fines, tell him to stop it with fines.
Tell him: “You’re doing wrong, you filthy man!” ‘Cos I don’t want to call him personally.