Director of Albanian customs Genti Gazheli has accused some media portals of blackmailing him over fiscal action his institution took.
Gazheli reacted after a number of articles were published in the media stating he had promoted people allegedly tried in Greece for smuggling.
The portals stated that individuals within the customs department were stopped by Greek police in 2016 while transporting stolen goods.
The customs director said that the reports were part of a campaign against him after a media owner was fined for tax evasion. After the fine was handed down, he claims the offensive against him started.
“I want to share with the public and stakeholders served by the Albanian customs that the attack on me by a certain media comes immediately after a business owned by the media in question has been fined for tax evasion,” he wrote on Facebook.
He said it may be a coincidence but that the attacks have not provided any evidence or facts for their claims and that his department have not had any communication regarding a foreign investigation from Greece, or within Albania.
“Blackmail and media fines sponsored by vested interests in fiscal law enforcement are routine for me. I work for the state and no one can shake me in the performance of my duty.” he continued.
No further information on the fine handed down, or evidence behind allegations on either side have been made public.
Allegations that media owners blackmail businesses and individuals have been rife over the years in Albania.
In April 2022, Top Channel was faced with accusations it had pressured staff on a show called Top Story, resulting in the firing of the show’s director. The channel reacted by accusing the former director of blackmail, calling his claims of pressure defamatory.
The former director retaliated by accusing the CEO of the channel of extortion campaigns against business people and state officials.
In the same month, the owner of Ora News was sanctioned by the United States for corruption, criminal activity and destabilising behaviour.
“Ndroqi has utilized media outlets formerly under his control to extort and blackmail Albanian citizens through demands for money and advertising purchases in exchange for withholding publication of negative media stories,” reads the press release.
Media ownership continues to pose a significant challenge to Albania’s media landscape as the lion’s share of the market rests in the hands of a few business people. These individuals and their companies have interests in education, health, construction, and other regulated sectors.
The recent Reporters Without Borders country report notes that “The most influential Albanian private media are owned by a handful of companies which have links to politicians and at the same time operate in highly regulated sectors such as construction. While there are hundreds of online media in the country, only a small minority has a sustainable business model with transparent funding. “