From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Who Paid for the New Justice HQ? Old friends meet in front of a questionable acquisition OPDAT legal expert John Smibert (top left) with former Minister of Interior Fatmir Xhafaj (top second from left). In the front, smiling, US Chargé d'Affairs Leyla Moses-Ones and ONM Chief Genoveva Ruiz Calavera.

On July 22, US Chargé d’Affairs Leyla Moses-Ones, ONM Chief Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, and Minister of Justice Etilda Gjonaj opened the new headquarters for the judiciary governance institutions, called the “Polis of Justice.” The new building will house the High Judicial Council (KLGj), High Prosecutorial Council (KLP), High Justice Inspectorate (ILD), and the School of Magistrature.

The impressive new complex has been recently built as the School for Advocacy by the National Chamber of Advocacy (DhKA), and has been reportedly acquired by the government for €11 million.

The history of the building, however, casts doubt on both its origin and the legality of the government’s acquisition.

The new judiciary headquarters are built on a piece of land in an area of Tirana called the “Air Field” (Fusha e Aviocionit). As one of its last acts, just before leaving office, the former government of Sali Berisha transferred the administration of 25,000 square meters, from the Ministry of Defense to the National Chamber of Advocacy—a professional association of private lawyers.

With Decision of the Council of Ministers (VKM) no. 670, on August 7, 2013, the government transferred the administration of the land, registered in Tirana cadastral zone 8210, to the Chamber for the construction of the National School of Advocacy. Art. 3 of the VKM states explictly:

The Ministry of Justice and the National Chamber of Advocacy are prohibited from changing the destination of the property […] to alienate it, or to give it in use to third parties.

VKM no. 670 bases the transfer of the administration of the land on art. 13 and 15 of Law no. 8743, February 22, 2001, “On real estate of the state.” However, according to art. 15(c):

The Council of Ministers changes the responsibility of administration from one state organ or public entity to another in the cases when […] a better use of the property can be realized under the administration of another state or public organ.

The DhKA is not a state or public organ, but rather a private association whose funding and management are not subject to public scrutiny. It is headed by Maks Haxhia, who not only has fulfilled a prominent role in the justice reform as member of the EURALIUS Steering Committee, he is also the lawyer of, among others, former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri, who currently stands trial for drug trafficking and corruption, as well as former High Court President Xhezair Zaganjori, who was recently dismissed by the Special Appeal Chamber.

It can, therefore, be argued that the transfer of the land to the DhKA in 2013 happened in violation of the law.

The “parting gift” of the Berisha government raised many questions. For example, Saimir Visha, then Chairman of the Society of Penal Lawyers, stated on October 6, 2013 for Top Channel:

It is considered impossible to build the National School [of Advocacy] on the Air Field, where the departed government has granted us 25,000 sq.m., something that raised many questions. […] Such an area has created doubts and moreover the Property Registration Office isn’t registering it.

These issues were eventually resolved on February 17, 2016, when the National Territorial Council, chaired by Prime Minister Edi Rama, decided to give a building permit to the DhKA for the construction of the “Korpus Avokatia,” the School of Advocacy.

On April 22, 2016, the DhKA publishes a public call for offers for the “Construction of the Corpus National Chamber of Advocacy of Albania.”

Construction of the School of Advocacy, photo by AMES shpk, which audited the project.

In 2017, the construction of the Korpus Avokatia started, and media reports from the time suggest that it has become a “private” construction project. On August 28, Monitor reports :

Sources close to the project explained that this building is dedicated to teaching and has funding sources from private partners and will be managed by private partners. The Korpus Avokatia has been conceptualized as a multifunctional building with teaching environments, offices, bars, and restaurants, and parking spaces. The Chamber of Advocacy is involved in this project.

While the financial sources for this construction project remain unclear and undocumented, a seemingly unrelated problem was created in the offices of the European Commission.

In May 2017, the European Commission and Albanian government decided to cut €50 million from the justice reform budget by removing the “large expenditures” of “new court buildings.” As a result, the new justice governance institutions that were formed more a year later would be without any permanent accommodation.

In December 2018, Ora News reports that the government was in conversation with the DhKA to take over the Korpus Avokatia, which at that moment was still unfinished.

Eventually, the Rama government passed VKM no. 234, April 17, 2019, according to which an interinstitutional working group is set up to develop an “integrated development plan for the ‘Polis of Justice’ […] in cadastral zone no. 8210, Tirana […] including […] the building erected on this property by the National Chamber of Advocacy.” The development plan should secure offices for the KLGj, KLP, ILD, and School of Magistrature.

The planned extension of the School of Magistrature

Especially the inclusion of the School of Magistrature is remarkable, as the government organized in 2015 an international architecture competition to enlarge the existing campus building and create a “Palace of Justice” that would also house the High Court. To that end, the government gave the School in December 2017 an additional 3,205 sq.m. state property to construct this extension. The status of this project is unclear.

According to VKM no. 234, the interinstitutional working group was to start the negotiation process with the DhKA to buy the property Korpus Avokatia and prepare a draft contract to be approved the Council of Ministers. No record of such approval, or any sign of the contract, exists.

Moreover, using the property for anything else but the School of Advocates is a violation of VKM no. 670 from 2013, which explicitly prohibits this, while at the same time there are strict legal constraints on the government’s capacity to simply buy property on the real estate market.

Nevertheless, on July 22 the new Justice Polis was opened in the building of the Korpus Avokatia with all the internationals present. The price, according to media reports, was €11 million. As long as no contract has been made public, it is unclear to whom this money has been paid and under which legal provisions.

Let us summarize. In 2013, the Berisha government grants the private foundation DhKA 25,000 sq.m. state property to build the School of Advocacy. The DhKA is unable to build there until in 2016 the Rama government approves a building permit. Construction starts in 2017 and is funded by unknown sources and procured through an opaque process.

Even before the Korpus Avokatia is finished, the Rama government starts negotiations to buy back the building and the land it gifted for an undisclosed sum. No contract has been made public, which is possibly in violation of the government decision from 2013, which itself was possibly in violation of the Albanian law.

An additional question which arises is where could the government have possibly found €11 million, if it has insistently claimed that it has “no money” to build a new National Theater.

Why is there always money to be found to transfer to the pockets of the “friends” of the Justice Reform such as Maks Haxhia and his private foundation, but when it comes to education, healthcare, or culture, everything is left to private “partners” not interested in the public good but in maximizing profit?

The Justice Reform has become a profitable business for those circling in its orbit and has offered a new generation of “Rilindja” supporters a way into the highest regions of judicial power and the luxury office space that comes with it.

No one wonders whether it is such a good thing that the very building of the new justice governance institutions is surrounded by question marks about its legality or financing. But perhaps that is actually the best metaphor they could have found.