The Minister of Justice Etilda Gjonaj fired 12 of the countries prison directors in one go last week. Following the shocking cull, she immediately filled their seats with new executives.
One of the new appointees is Egon Velaj, the former director of ALUIZNI in Vlora (Agency for Legalization, Urbanization, and Integration of Informal Zones and Buildings). Now appointed to director of the Vlora prison, Velaj was fired from ALUIZNI a year earlier for abuse of office and corruption by the same minister. He had allegedly provided the owner of an illegal building with official documents proving its legality, in violation of the law.
Minister Gjonaj had previously spoken of how Velaj’s dismissal was a good example of the government’s commitment to fighting corruption. Back then she dismissed 46 employees of the ALUIZNI and Vlora IPRO branch in one go, including Velaj. Many others received written warnings for misconduct.
Her press conference announcing the action was widely shared on social media by Prime Minister Edi Rama as well as airing on his dedicated TV station, ERTV. Gjonaj attributed the action as a success story for cleansing the administration of abusive employees.
Velaj, and others have been investigated and on 6 February, Prosecutor Anton Pali stated that it had been proven they had committed an abuse of office and demanded they be sentenced to prison. The court is due to decide on 23 October.
Despite having dismissed him, having investigated him, and despite the prosecution charge pending an outcome in court today, the same Minister has declared he is now fit to run a prison. It is also strange that the appointment has been made despite the fact Velaj could be going to prison himself.
On 11 September, the Ministry of Justice published a list of candidates for leadership who, it claims, qualify for the role after passing a written test and certain legal criteria. It is not known how Velaj passed the legal criteria section, as he has criminal charges pending an outcome in court.
His appointment now, following his dismissal last year, raises questions over the ongoing court case, as it suggests a possible government attempt to influence the court verdict.