Former Albanian Minister of Interior Sentenced to 5 Years for Abuse of Office

The Serious Crime Court sentenced former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri to 5 years in prison, which is reduced to 3 years and 4 months due to the abbreviated trial. The court dropped all the three charges by prosecutors, and sentenced him on a different charge – abuse of office.

However, Tahiri will not serve time in prison. The court put him on probation for three years, and barred him from exercising public office during this time.

The former minister is expected to appeal the verdict while he remains free.

Prosecutors had demanded 12 year in prison for Tahiri, as well as for Jaeld Çela, the former head of Vlora Police, on charges of international drug trafficking, participation in a “structured criminal organization”, and “criminal activity under a structured criminal organization.” Jaeld Çela, who is still at large, received the same sentence as Tahiri today, except that he will serve his time in prison.

Tahiri denied all charges in this morning’s session before the court verdict, which was expected to be announced at 4pm.

However Judges Ardit Mustafai, Flora Hajredinaj and Irena Gjoka were unable to come with a verdict at the announced time. Following hours of deliberation, they were finally able to announce their verdict just before 10pm, almost six hours after the scheduled time.

None of the judges has undergone the vetting process under the justice reform.

Commenting on a wiretap during today’s court hearing, where the Habilaj gang members talk about “the Big Boss”, Tahiri denied it was him. Showing a picture of himself and Prime Minister Edi Rama, Tahiri reportedly added that on the day of the wiretapped conversation he was in a meeting with Rama, who “as regards politics, [he] is my Big Boss,” and that none of the two were Habilajs’ “Big Bosses”.

Journalists attending the trial reported that Tahiri also complained that while he was being charged with grave accusations for selling his car to the Habilajs, “there are many people who are not held accountable even for their [drug] trafficking brothers”.

Former Minister of Interior Fatmir Xhafaj, who replaced Tahiri and later resigned, was asked to vacate his position when his brother was found to be hiding in Albania while he had been sentenced in Italy for drug trafficking. Xhafaj refused to resign and his brother was sent to jail in Italy. The minister resigned only later, allegedly for matters unrelated to his brother.

In 2015, police officer Dritan Zagani alleged that Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri had lend his official car to his relatives, the Habilaj gang, who used to traffic drugs without being checked by police.

Tahiri denied the allegations. Prime Minister Edi Rama attacked the police officer and accused him for being a criminal. Zagani later was awarded political asylum in Switzerland.

Investigations against Tahiri started in October 2017, following arrests of ringleader Moisi Habilaj and other members of the criminal organization in Catania, Italy. Upon prosecutors’ request, investigations were extended for times.

In February 2019, the Serious Crimes Prosecution concluded investigations and in March it filed charges against Tahiri and three other former police chiefs. Jaeld Çela and two other high police officials, Gjergj Kohila and Sokol Bode, have been on the run since November 2017.

Tahiri’s court sessions were postponed several times for different reasons.

In previous sessions, the court approved Tahiri’s request for an “abbreviated trial”, which means that his final sentence would be reduced by 1/3.

Although facing charges deemed as “extremely grave” by his lawyer, Saimir Tahiri was not kept in prison during the trial.