From: Arjola Tafaj
Investigation into Elbasan Judge Shows Fault Lines in Albania’s Justice Reform

The recently unveiled social media activity of Enkeleda Kapedani, chief judge of the Elbasan Circuit, has raised questions not only about the judge’s fitness for office, but about the larger workings of the judicial system in Albania and the credibility of the ongoing judicial reform.

On the social media platform TikTok, Kapedani, 37, had posted several videos where she appears in designer clothing, or riding an expensive car. Some of the videos were recorded while she was at her office.

Kapedani claims that the videos were stolen from her phone and posted to TikTok by a third party.

On Monday, the High Justice Inspector (ILD), ordered an investigation into Enkeleda Kapedani’s actions, stating that her behavior discredits her position as a judge and violated the Constitution and the status of judges and prosecutors on judicial ethics.

The city of Elbasan, where Kapedani exercises her function as a judge to date, suffers from a high rate of unsolved criminal cases, as well as a high rate of criminality overall. In fact, towards the end of 2019, Kapedani presided over the release from prison of Viktor Ymeri, a former member of the Vlora gang, led by Gazmend Braka (Gaxhai).

In 2000, the Durrës District Court had sentenced Ymeri to life in prison for two murders committed in collaboration with Braka one year earlier. Ymeri had also been sentenced to 24 years for a murder he had committed in Rome in 1996, but had escaped imprisonment.

Over the next twenty years, Ymeri’s case was tried and retried by courts in Durrës and Elbasan. In 2019, the Court of Elbasan reduced Ymeri’s sentence to 25 years on a legal technicality, based on the 24-year sentence he had received for the 1996 murder he had committed in Rome. He was later released in December 2019—with six years still left on his conviction—for having worked off a portion of his sentence while in prison.

Ymeri’s release is one in a series of controversial decisions that have facilitated the acquittal and release to freedom of suspicious and dangerous killers.

The leader of the Berat gang, Lulzim Caka, accused of 5 murders, was not sentenced to life in prison. Instead, he too was released early in 2019. Two of the members of the Durrës gang, Lulëzim Berisha and his brother-in-law Plaurent Dervishaj, stood accused of at least 4 murders. Berisha was released early in 2016 and Dervishaj has not spent a day in prison for those murders.

The leader of the Lushnja gang, Aldo Bare, was also accused of 5 murders. Although previously convicted to life in prison, in 2017 he won the right to a retrial.

Dritan Dajti, who was accused of killing 4 police officers, was first sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, before being retried in 2019 and sentenced to only 25 years in prison.

The above are some of the best known cases of individuals charged with multiple murders, whose cases were retried over the years to their benefit, as many received reduced sentences. The courts have often relied on foggy reinterpretations of the law, or a justice system in constant shift and transformation, to be more lenient.

Since late 2017, the Albanian justice system—criticized heavily for its corruption and inefficiency—has undergone a lengthy reform and vetting process. And yet between this latest social media “scandal,” and several instances of what can be described as dubious decision-making, show that the need for reform is far from gone.