From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Illyrian Guard May Turn into Rama’s Paramilitary Force

On April 4, 2019, the Council of Ministers decided to create the state company Illyrian Guard sh.a., a national security firm falling directly under the Ministry of Interior. The state is 100% owner, and the company has a starting capital of 10 million lekë (~€82,600). According to the Decision of the Council of Ministers (VKM), Illyrian Guard

offers paid services to third parties, public or private, in the field of public security, information technology, as well as any other service in accordance with the aim of its creation and status. [It] offers supporting services to the Ministry of Interior and institutions dependent on it, in the implementation of the competences that are grant to the latter according to the field of state responsibility.

In brief: Illyrian Guard will be a private security firm owned by the state that will take care of securing state property and assist the State Police.

According to its registration at the Business Registry, Illyrian Guard is directed by Henrik Elmazaj. Elmazaj was commander at RENEA and the Special Forces, notably during the 1997 collapse and semi-civil war in Albania. He is the former President of the ALSIG security firm.

The board of Illyrian Guard comprises Deputy Minister Julian Hodaj, Elora Kokalari, director of the cabinet of the Minister of Interior and former director of the Albanian Delivery Unit at the Prime Ministry, and Dritan Palnikaj, advisor at the Prime Minister’s office and former General Secretary at the Ministry of Interior. During his tenure at the Ministry of Interior, Palnikaj was allegedly involved in several corrupt tenders at the Directorate of Prisons, according to MP Lefter Maliqi.

Judging from the composition of the board, it is clear that Prime Minister Edi Rama has a personal stake in the creation of the Illyrian Guard.

The first tender issued by Illyrian Guard, announced on July 3, for uniforms at a value of 3,500,000 lekë, was canceled in early August.

In a public statement, Deputy Minister Hodaj declared that the Illyrian Guard was established for three reasons: 1) setting a new standard in the security market and public order; 2) saving public money by taking over security of public buildings; 3) a good opportunity for the “refreshment” of State Police personnel.

Indeed, the second reason seems reasonable enough. The security sector is dominated by several illegal price-fixing cartels, which keep the prices artificially high and prohibit competition. The Rama government has failed to take on these cartels, instead providing them with lucrative tenders. The only minister trying to set some standards to the industry, former Minister of Interior Dritan Demiraj, was a technical minister disposed if after the 2017 general elections. The money-saving can therefore not have been the real reason behind the creation of Illyrian Guard. If public expenses were the real concern, the government could have acted years ago.

The third reason is already questionable. One of the regulations imposed by Demiraj was the prohibition of (former) police officers, military, or secret service personnel from occupying a management function in security firms, in order to make the companies less sensitive to corruption and nepotism and prevent a “revolving door” between State Police and private security firms. But Deputy Ministry Hodaj instead sees the Illyrian Guard as a way of “promoting” State Police officers:

In the State Police there are many people with experience, which for one reason or another didn’t get ahead in their career. We’re talking about those who have let’s say 20–25 years of experience in the State Police. It can be a very good option for them to work for a private entity, that guarantees also maybe good working conditions while continuing to work more or less in the same profile.

In other words, the Illyrian Guard will be precisely the “revolving door” that will allow State Police officers who “didn’t get ahead” get a comfortable job and sit out their time.

The timing is of course conspicuous, as the Ministry of Interior recently started to implement a “vetting” of the police force. There should be no doubt that many officers not passing the vetting will be offered a job in the Illyrian Guard. This will create a “clean” State Police, while keeping the “dirty” forces in a state-owned private company, away from public scrutiny. At the same time, this prevent private security firms from profiting from the large influx of dismissed police officers, keeping the government in control. This is a prime recipe for corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power, and we see it created under our very eyes.

Reason 1 appears to be another main drive behind this VKM. In recent months, there has been a steady increase of the use of private security firms in dealing with civil protests. The first large-scale deployment of private security was in the states’s battle against student protestors. More recently, private security firms were used against the protestors protecting the National Theater from demolition. Several photographs show private security officers engaged in physical violence against citizens.

This trend shows perhaps the most worrying aspect of the establishment of the Illyrian Guard. Different from the State Police, the Illyrian Guard is a private firm and therefore not subject to the State Police Law. As such, it does not fall under the final control of Parliament, it does not have to abide by the principles of the State Police, and does not need to be transparent about it finances.

As Deputy Minister Hodaj admits: “There are advantages in comparison with a state organ, because as a commercial company it has a dynamic organization. So it is not conditioned by those schemes that state agencies [i.e. the State Police] or institutions follow today.”

This opens the door to the creation of what is basically a paramilitary force largely operating outside the scrutiny of the public, comprising former (or dismissed) State Police officers, under direct control of the Ministry of Interior. What could go wrong?