From: Alice Taylor
SPAK Returns Majority of Assets Sized from Habilaj Drug Trafficking Gang

On Friday, the Special Court for Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) decided to lift the seizure order for most of the Habilaj crime family assets. Instead, it ordered the confiscation and transferred to the state only around one-third of their assets.

Moisi Hablaj and his associates were found guilty and convicted by both Italian and Albanian courts.

SPAK did not specify the value of the confiscated assets. Out of 29 seized assets, only nine, including real estate and vehicles, will be confiscated.

Moisi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug trafficking, membership in a criminal group, and committing criminal offenses as a member of a criminal group. His associates also received severe punishments.

The Habilaj family were first apprehended by Italian authorities in 2017, having previously been under surveillance for four years. Only after Italian authorities acted did Albanian police take any measures against the family. They raided the village of Babica e Vogel where they found five tonnes of cannabis.

Vladimir Mara, a prosecutor who represented SPAK in the case, told BIRN that court experts said that around 80 million lek (EUR 650,982) were believed to be derived by legal means and were therefore not subject to seizure.

The arrest of the Habiliaj family caused a big scandal in Albania. Moisi was well known in Albania due to frequent public accusations for drug trafficking in Greece and Italy.

A former employee of the anti-drugs division of the police in Fier, Dritan Zagani, first denounced him for drug trafficking. He said he had given information to the Guardia di Finanza Mission in Albania as well as his superiors. Instead of the investigation proceeding, Zagani was accused of leaking information about his investigation and was stopped and put under house arrest. He fled Albania and sought asylum in Switzerland.

He then claimed the accusation against him was at the behest of at-the-time Minister of the Interior Saimir Tahiri. The Habilaj’s are cousins to Tahiri, and he alleged that their drug trafficking activities were carried out under this protection.

It was then alleged that Tahiri lent his personal car to the gang, so they could traffic drugs to Greece because the police wouldn’t intercept a vehicle belonging to a Minister.

Tahiri denied any relation to the Habilaj’s and said he had sold the car in question. He was later forced to admit he still owned it, but claimed he had sold it and not declared the revenue. This admission of tax evasion was never prosecuted.

After, Tahiri was taken to court on charges of international drug trafficking, participation in a “structured criminal organization,” and “criminal activity under a structured criminal organization.” 

He denied all charges. He was eventually sentenced to five years n prison, abbreviated to three years and four months. The court dropped all the original charges and instead sentenced him to 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.

Meanwhile, Tahiri hired a US reputation manager to clear his name with the “political and intelligence community in the United States.”

The company Stone Strategic Solutions was reportedly engaged by Tahiri and was communicated to the US Department of Justice based on provisions of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Reports on such forms of lobbying are mandatory in the US.

According to the documents registered with the government, the company has been hired to assist him in “communicating with members of the United States Congress, the State Department, the Department of Justice and the Intelligence community regarding his resignation from government and issues that relate to his legal battle in Albania.”

The documents also state that the company will be working to counter “campaigns of false information and false allegations in the media, targeted at Tahiri.” 

Exit is not aware of any pending cases from Tahiri against any media platform for defamation or libel.