A new series of wiretaps published by German newspaper Bild shows the extent of vote buying activities of the Socialist Party during the early elections in the municipality of Dibra on September 11, 2016, which involved not only criminal groups, but also state officials, members of parliament, ministers, and Prime Minister Edi Rama himself.
Earlier this month, Bild released wiretaps from dossier 339, showing Durrës mayor Vangjush Dako involved in a vote buying scheme with the Avdylaj criminal gang during the 2017 parliamentary elections. The 15 recordings released today come from a different dossier, dossier 184/2016, which again has been held under wraps by the Prosecution Office for the last three years.
The wiretaps all deal with the vote-buying activities of the Socialist Party the Dibra Municipality. In the center of the activities is Arben Keshi, then Director of the Center for Illegal Foreigners at the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Keshi was previously chairman of the PS in Maqellara (party of Dibra Municipality), and fourth on the candidate list for the PS in Dibra County for the 2013 parliamentary elections. After the municipal elections in Dibra, Keshi was elected to the National Assembly of the PS and became police commissioner in Bulqiza. He is currently chief of the economic crime department of the State Police in Dibra.
Despite the ban on public official engaging in electoral activities, Director Keshi kept Prime Minister Edi Rama personally updated about his progress on election day:
Keshi: Hey boss!
PM Rama: Hey, what does it look like?
Keshi: Well, fine, we are within the expectations.
PM Rama: You think you have reached the objective, right?
Keshi: I think so. Now, based from what I am getting from the commissioners [at the voting centers], we have achieved it.
Wiretap 2 features former Socialist MP Artan Gaçi congratulating Keshi on behalf of Prime Minister Rama with the electoral results in Maqellara, a part of Dibra Municipality:
MP Gaçi: We stayed, had fun with the big boss [PM Rama], and he is full of the highest esteem for you.
Keshi: Thank you!
MP Gaçi: The highest esteem. No, no, from him, from him. Also from me, it goes without saying, but I am saying from him. […] You’ve got maximum points.
Keshi: I hope it turns into a reality, because I got stuck here, it’s been three years.
MP Gaçi: No, no, it will, it will. An extraordinary regard for all of that. He [Rama] said all of Maqellarë was thanks to you. He said he is the man. […] He fixed it, he is responsible for everything there.
Further wiretaps reveal the tactics used by Keshi: vote buying with cash money, directly or through intermediaries, using teachers to exert pressure on families to vote for the PS. Votes bought are recorded on ledgers for later reference. All of this is reminiscent of the tactics used by the Avdylajs in Durrës County. Public servants are blackmailed to vote for the PS in exchange for keeping their job, as is shown in the wiretap of a conversation between Keshi and then Director of the Regional Education Directorate in Dibra, Drini Gjeçi:
Keshi: Hey what’s going on there?
Gjeçi: Fine. It looks like it’s going well. It looks good. […] Do you think those [school] directors have been loyal, or will you sort them out afterwards?
Keshi: Come on, call them one by one. Tell them on Monday [after the elections] they will all go to waste! Call them all, one by one! Tell them you will report to me about who you have been calling. […] Listen up, women, men, whatever. We will remind them all one by one, all the teachers, according to the list that you have brought there, if they want to be at work on Monday – if they do not want to, let them go to their motherfucking hole, fuck them!
Pressure did not come only from Keshi. Other wiretaps show also Socialist MP Pjerin Ndreu, now PS candidate for mayor in Lezha, issuing orders to Gjeçi to blackmail teachers.
MP Ndreu: Call this Reshat Elezi, from Reçi [village in Dibra]. Tell this school director to openly declare the vote, because what he is talking up and down is not very pleasant. Tell him: declare openly that you vote for the PS, otherwise on Monday he will be kicked out of his job!
Gjeçi: Reshat Elezaj?
MP Ndreu: Yes. […] Tell him how he will be thrown out of his job on Monday. Tell him: declare his vote for the PS, he should declare it openly, or else he better find a place to hide!
Gjeçi subsequently threatens school director Reshat Elezi as he is entering the voting center:
Gjeçi: Where are you?
Elezi: Here, near the Voting Center, I am now downstairs.
Gjeçi: Did you take all your family with you?
Elezi: My family? No, they are not coming to vote now. I’ll go and pick them up later.
Gjeçi: […] Where do you vote?
Elezi: In Zallreç.
Gjeçi: Zallreç? Listen, because I do not have good news from there: Today your vote, your vote first, and the votes of your family second will be openly declared! If you do not declare your vote openly today, together with your family, go and look for another job!
Elezi: Director, don’t worry about that at all. Are you listening? That’s all gossip, don’t worry about it at all.
Gjeçi: Hey, it has to be declared openly, openly! When I say openly, it must be done openly!
It should speak for itself that all these actions are full violation of the democratic right to a secret vote, and that the pressure exerted by public officials such as Gjeçi is a punishable offense under the Penal Code.
Keshi is able to directly command the police to obstruct voting for the opposition, in the following case with Police Chief Sali Skura from Kamza, a municipality with many voters who are still officially registered in Dibra, and traditionally vote opposition’s PD. Skura and Keshi discuss setting up roadblocks to prevent voters from Kamza reaching Dibra.
Keshi: It looks good, but you people from Kamza, you have us worried. […] Block the buses from Kamza, buddy.
Skura: Yes, I have put up police roadblocks. Let’s see, they will depart tomorrow by 3:00 or 3:30.
Keshi: Do you have any information about how many people we are talking about? How many will depart from there? […] How many?
Skura: I think it would be about 450 to 500 people.
Keshi: Organized by [Kamza mayor] Xhelal [Mziu (PD)], right?
Skura: Xhelal has organized the whole municipality, he has sent them tonight to the new tourist place in Lura [village in Dibra]. You get it? […] Lura is a problem. […] Lura, Reçi, the whole area, the whole region there. But I think you have their commissioners [at the voting center] in your bag?
Keshi: Yes, yes, of course!
The wiretaps further reveal that former Minister of Energy Damian Gjiknuri offered Keshi the help of “problematic boys,” a group of criminals, to be used in case of need during election day:
Gjiknuri: Any worries, anything?
Keshi: Well they must show up now, our MPs, because the ones from the PD have arrived.
Gjiknuri: They will. They are coming now, they might have slept in a bit, because they were there all night. They are coming now.
Keshi: I did not sleep at all!
Gjiknuri: I know man, I know. Now, they are up. They are coming now.
Keshi: So that our people show up around in the center.
Gjiknuri: Of course.
Keshi: Well, their observers are all from other cities. Nobody knows them.
Gjiknuri: I know, I know, that is what they brought here, because they do not trust their own people. Anyway, I am sending to you some boys, to have them around, a minibus full of them, to be there. […] I sent them, to stay there, to stay at your headquarters, for you to have them in any case. But they should not be exposed, because they are from the kind of those problematic boys, but anyways to be there just in case.
The wiretaps published by Bild paint a thoroughly disturbing image of vote buying practices involving the highest echelons of the Socialist Party and the public administration. It also shows that this entire operation, involving education departments, police, businessmen, and criminal groups could take place right under the nose of international observers, unable to grasp the extent of the problem.
Meanwhile, not a single official mentioned in any of the wiretaps has been indicted by the Prosecution Office, despite the clear proof of punishable offenses provided by them.