Albanian Electiongate Dossier ‘Demoted’ to Dibra Prosecution Office

Three years after investigations started at the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office, Temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku has decided to transfer the investigation into alleged vote-buying during the early local elections in Dibra in 2016 to the regional Dibra Prosecution Office, which is headed by a close relative of one of the key suspects under investigation.

Following its inquiry, reported that Dibra Prosecutor Esmeralda Keshi is the wife of a first-degree cousin of Arben Keshi, a former high official at the Ministry of Interior, who appeared as one of the key persons in the prosecution wiretaps engaging in alleged vote-buying and intimidation of voters during the local elections in Dibra.

However, three years after opening investigations into vote-buying during the 2016 elections in Dibra, the so-called “Dossier 184,” the office headed by Donika Prela came to the conclusion that the case does not belong to them. In July, the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office interrupted the investigation and declared its lack of competence, passing the dossier to the Dibra Prosecutor’s Office.

Prela stated the investigating prosecutor’s argument was that “there is no structured criminal group, but alleged crimes during elections, investigation of which does not fall under the competence of the Serious Crimes Prosecution.”

The Dibra Prosecution Office also refused to accept the case file and sent it back to the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office, also citing “conflicting areas of competence.” Dibra prosecutors initially refused to take up the investigation allegedly citing the fact that they are acquaintances with some suspects from the same relatively small city.

It was Temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku who finally decided that the Dibra Prosecution Office should continue with the investigation despite the conflicts of interest.

In the wiretaps published by the German newspaper BILD, Arben Keshi, a public official, was heard in conversations with:

  • Prime Minister Rama, whom he updated about his progress on election day, despite the ban on public officials to engage in electoral activities;
  • Voters, talking about buying votes;
  • Regional education officials, whom he orders to pressure all teachers to choose between voting for the Socialist Party or be dismissed;
  • Sali Skura, Head of Police Station No.5 in Kamza, whom he asks to stop opposition voters who live in Kamza but who are still eligible to vote in Dibra;
  • The then Minister of Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri who offered Keshi the help of some “problematic boys” he had brought to Dibra, a group of criminals, to be used in case of need during election day.

The wiretaps showed that Socialist Party had set up what appeared to be an organized vote-buying scheme with the knowledge of Prime Minister Edi Rama, which could qualify as a “structured criminal group.”

The transfer of investigation from the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office to the Dibra Prosecution Office raises serious questions about the impartiality of investigations and professionalism of prosecutors.

This is not the first case that important investigations are transferred to district prosecution offices. The case of 613 kg of cocaine seized in Durrës was also transferred from the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office to the Durrës Prosecution Office with the claim that it was a case of “drug trafficking” and not a “structured criminal group”.

After months of investigation, prosecutors concluded that 613 kg of cocaine, the largest amount ever trafficked into Albania, was accomplished by a single person, Arbër Çekaj.

The transfer of investigations from the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office to district prosecution offices of Durrës and Dibra was done in both cases by relying on the 2017 amendments to the Criminal Code and the restructuring of prosecution offices as a result of justice reform.

With the new changes, the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office would be transformed into the Special Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Structures (SPAK), investigating corruption, organized crime, and crimes committed by senior government officials, including the President, the Prime Minister and MPs. Other crimes will be investigated by district prosecutors.

In both cases, the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office has reached to the conclusion that the alleged crimes at question do not fall under “organized crime” or “crimes committed by senior officials.”