A Victim of Corruption

By Erich Rathfelder,
A Victim of Corruption

Arben Jorgaqi is a casual guy. In the Albanian coastal town of Vlora, the handsome, slender man knows almost everyone. The beauties of the city surround the bachelor – if you want to believe the pictures on Facebook. In his late thirties, he is a modern man interested in art, music, and politics, who at first glance does not want to fit into his profession at all.

But he is a public prosecutor who takes his profession and the government’s propaganda against the widespread corruption seriously. Even recently, such people in Albania fit the political line. Since the takeover of power by the socialist Edi Rama 2013, Albania wants to fulfill the conditions for the country’s EU accession and to reform the judiciary. After taking over the government, Edi Rama announced to fight corruption at all levels.

On the order of the government two new, ten-storey buildings were demolished in Vlora. The builders had not even sought a building permit. They followed the customs at the time. If you had money and a plot, you just started to build on it. The legalization would be achieved later, they thought. That Edi Rama was serious with his announcements and reforms, surprised not only them. Since then, all builders in Albania have been taking care of building permits before paying the construction companies.

Arben Jorgaqi earned his reputation as an incorruptible prosecutor. As he said three years ago to the author, he wanted to “fight for a modern, democratic, and constitutional Albania.” In May of this year, however, there was a sudden break. Jorgaqi was fired. He obviously had come too close to many powerful people.

The conflict boiled up as he began to conduct serious investigations into a construction mafia. He succeeded, partly as a secret investigator, to find out that the criminals who had appeared as honorable businessmen had succeeded in exchanging files and land titles in the registries.

They were concerned to get their hands on the best grounds on the coast south of Vlora. In view of the beginning tourist boom in the Adriatic country, these were worth millions. The trick was to make completely “legal” applications for the purchase of land, which was also allocated to the applicant due to fake documentation. To do this, the businessmen had built up a sprawling network within the administration, the police, and the judiciary.

The prosecutor, however, collected evidence. And went on the attack. In May of this year, he had some of the persons involved in the network arrested. To his astonishment, however, the police did not react. Instead he got reprimanded. Moreover, the principal prosecutor of Vlora transferred him to the small town of Përmet. “I started an appeal in Tirana and got my right.” He wanted to return to his former post and returned to Vlora on May 29. But two days later, he was “released” and shortly afterwards removed from his office.

His protests in Tirana were no use this time. The General Prosecutor, it turned out, is a close friend of the Chief Prosecutor in Vlora.

From the end of the year, the judiciary is to be reformed. After this, the Attorney General in Tirana could no longer make such a far-reaching decision as against Arben Jorgaqi. So the uncomfortable prosecutor was removed from office before the reform. Apparently, the criminal network hopes to get rid of the annoying investigations into their manipulations.

He was threatened after he refused to accept €300,000 as “compensation.” Arben fled to Tirana and constantly changes his place of residence. He fears for his life. His life is destroyed. He can no longer pay the installments for his recently acquired property in Vlora. He is dependent on the help of friends. Nevertheless, he hopes that the appeal court in Tirana will rule in his favor. In view of the involvement of high-level politicians in the network of the land mafia, he is skeptical about his prospects of winning. Whether Edi Rama stands by his promises will be shown soon.

This article was first published by TAZ and translated by Exit.

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