The Socialist Party (PS) of Albania rigged the 2017 general elections in collaboration with organized criminal groups through vote buying, threatening of voters, and promising of illegal benefits. The findings of the investigation conducted by journalist Klodiana Lala of BIRN were initially published last night by the Voice of America.
BIRN’s investigation focused on the case currently investigated by the Serious Crimes Prosecution on the Avdyli criminal gang from Shijak in Durrës county. The Prosecution Office’s investigation, initiated in 2016, and wiretaps of the Avdylis have revealed that dozens of former PS MPs and other high officials were involved in vote buying, corruption, forging of documents, and other criminal activities.
So far, the wiretaps have revealed officials’ potential criminal activity in collaboration with criminal gangs in the cities of Durrës, Kavaja, Lezha, and Dibra, but this is only a small part of the wiretaps awaiting to be transcribed from more than 60 CDs in the possession of the Prosecution.
The Avdyli gang’s close collaboration with Mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako appears to have been crucial for the PS’s 2017 electoral results. Mayor Dako and his close associates are recorded in several phone calls with the Avdylis talking about vote buying arrangements, among other things. The report reveals that Dako seems to have granted the Avdylis access to state institutions as a reward for their criminal activity in vote buying.
Mayor Dako refused to comment on his relationship with the Avdylis, stating only that they were just citizens with whom he has been in touch like with many others in his municipality.
The vote buying appears to have been an organized activity between party structures of the PS and criminal gangs in Dibra as well. The Prosecution has interrogated several high officials of the police and regional education office.
The wiretaps also show that, among other people, the brother of the arrested former socialist MP Arben Ndoka was allegedly involved in vote buying in Lezha.
In Kavaja, voters were asked to prove their vote through photos in exchange of money. In one case, one voter was forced to return the money when criminals themselves had photographed his vote and had seen it wasn’t actually a vote for the Socialist Party. The Socialist mayor of Kavaja at that time, Elvis Rroshi was revealed to have been sentenced in Italy for attempt at group rape, drug trafficking, and money laundering. He was subsequently removed from office by the Constitutional Court.
Already in April 2017, the OSCE-ODIHR warned of criminal money financing the elections. A report prepared by the government in August 2017 also found that vote buying was widespread, concluding that “known criminal groups supported political parties during the electoral campaign in Durrës, Shkodra, Lezha, Dibra, Elbasan, Tirana, Berat, Fier, and elsewhere.” The wiretaps published by BIRN now confirm these assessments.
The opposition parties have consistently accused Prime Minister Edi Rama of using criminal gangs as a strategy to gain and hold on to power. Earlier, several PS MPs and mayors were revealed to have been either convicted criminals or wanted by justice in other countries for serious crimes including murder, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and prostitution. Prime Minister Rama has denied the opposition’s allegations.
Meanwhile, the electoral reform advised by OSCE-ODIHR, which would entail greater financial transparency of the political parties, has seen no progress. The German Bundestag already announced it would not support opening of accession negotiations if the reform is not implemented before the elections, and also European Parliament has urged the government to step up its efforts.
The Democratic Party has proposed several measures, such as funding electoral campaigns entirely by the state, prohibiting private contributions.