From: Alice Taylor
Judge Rules Against Citizens Claims of Illegal Construction in Valbona HPP Case

Today in Bajram Curri, the criminal case against Dragobia Energy, filed by TOKA, for continuing HPP construction without a valid construction permit was dismissed.

The prosecutor argued that Article 40 point 4 of the Law on territorial planning and development says that if the government fails to respond to a request for the extension of a permit, that request is considered approved.

Judge Aulon Pashaj agreed with the Prosecutor and the case was dismissed. He is due to submit this week, a written argument justifying his acceptance of the Prosecutor’s request.

TOKA, through a press release shared with Exit stated that they have several issues with today’s ruling and the justifications made under the law.

The first of which is that point three of the same law states that only one extension can be given. Dragobia Energy has already had one permitted extension in effect from 12 April 2017 until 21 December 2017. When the criminal complaint was filed in 2018, this extension had already expired.

The law states that when the extension has expired, a whole new permit must be applied for. The concept of “silent permission” as detailed in point 4 of the law only applies to extensions, not new applications.

Another point raised by TOKA is that the Ministry of Infrastructure signed an agreement with Dragobia Energy on 11 July 2018 whereby they promised to complete the work within 12 months. This has not happened. TOKA noted that the Ministry entered into the agreement when there was no valid construction permit or extension in place.

The prosecutor claimed that in 2019, the Municipality of Tropoja fined Dragobia Energy for failing to complete the works before the deadline. Dragobia stated that this was because of weather conditions and a lack of staff. TOKA stated that the past four years had in fact been some of the mildest on record, with low levels of rainfall. They added that Gener 2 had claimed that one of the benefits of the project was the number of jobs that would be created.

Genr 2’s lawyer Mine Progonati was not present and for the fourth time, submitted a request for postponement. She cited medical reasons, as she did previously when she was signed off work by a doctor for a week, yet appeared in a parallel case in Tirana during that time. Instead, she appointed local lawyer Durin Selimaj to represent Genr 2 on her behalf.

TOKA, led by Catherine Bohne said they believe today’s decision is in violation of the law and they plan to appeal the decision after receiving the written reasoning from the judge.

In their statement, they said:

“This ruling follows a pattern of numerous other illegal court actions – such as the 2018 move of Tropoja Court to block the Tirana Appeals Court order for Dragobia Energy to halt construction, and the innumerable delays created by Gener2’s defense team which have served only to allow ongoing environmental destruction. The situation seems to TOKA and local residents as clear indicators that the community does not have access to functioning justice or rule of law, which they consider to be infringements of our basic human rights.”

They concluded that they plan to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

You can read more on the background of the case here.