Shkëlzen Berisha, the son of former prime minister Sali Berisha, has lost his appeal against US author Guy Lawson and publishing company Simon & Schuster at the US Court of Appeals. In the verdict, dated September 2, 2020, the Court of Appeals confirms the verdict of lower court, which had ruled against the defamation claims filed by Berisha.
In his lawsuit from June 8, 2017, Berisha had alleged that Lawson had defamed him by implying that he was involved in arms trafficking and the Albanian mafia, in his 2015 book Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miama Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History.
The episode, as retold by Lawson, revolved around the activities of Florida company AEY, Inc. in Albania in the context of a $300 million contract of the US military to equip Afghan security forced against the Taliban in 2006. This involved buying ammunition, through a Swiss middleman, from the Albanian state company MEICO, which however was of Chinese origin and would thus violate AEY’s contract with the Pentagon. AEY hired and Albanian businessman, Kosta Trebicka, to repackage the ammunition. Trebicka found out that the Swiss middleman overcharged AEY for the ammunition, and contacted AEY with the information, upon which AEY attempted to renegotiate.
Shkëlzen Berisha is mentioned in the context of a meeting between AEY representatives, former MEICO director Ylli Pinari, and businessman Mihail Delijorgji. The following sequence is the part Berisha contested:
Ylli Pinari escorted Diveroli and Podrizki to . . . an abandoned construction site for a partially completed office building. Pinari led the pair up a set of stairs and along a corridor until they reached a door. Stepping inside, they found . . . a hard-looking man—a real thug, Podrizki thought, fear rising. . . .
This was Mihail Delijorgji. Diveroli and Podrizki then turned to see a young man around their age sitting in the corner. Dressed in a baseball cap and a sweater, he had dark hair, a soft chin, and sharklike eyes. He wasn’t introduced. This was Shkelzen Berisha, the son of the prime minister of Albania, they would later be told by Pinari. Shkelzen was part of what was known in Albania as “the family,” the tight-knit and extremely dangerous group that surrounded and lived at the beneficence of the prime minister, Sali Berisha. . . .
Delijorgji said that if Diveroli wanted a discount he would have to change the arrangements for the repackaging operation . . . by giving the contract to repack to Delijorgji’s company. The son of the prime minister remained silent. . . . .
Diveroli and Podrizki departed.
“That guy looked stupid enough to be dangerous,” Diveroli said of Delijorgji.
“Did we just get out of a meeting with the Albanian mafia?” Podrizki joked.
Trebicka was cut out of the deal in favor of Delijorgji, upon which Trebicka blew the whistle on the deal. He was later killed in an accident.
The US Appeals Court found that neither Lawson nor his publishers acted with “actual malice” against him, and threw out the case, in part because Lawson found “corroborations” of his story, including from current Tirana mayor Erion Veliaj:
For example, Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Tirana, told Lawson that the Berisha family was like a “wolf pack” that used individuals like Delijorgji to protect Shkelzen and that he was not surprised to hear that Berisha was involved in the AEY deal.