We should start by stating a simple fact. The duty of the Council of Mandates, yesterday, was to decide whether Saimir Tahiri would face the law on equal grounds with any other common citizen. The substance of General Prosecutor’s request was for them to allow prosecutors to undertake the same investigative actions and procedures for MP Tahiri as they would have against the private citizen Tahiri.
We also should clarify that the criminal immunity enjoyed by Albanian deputies is a rare thing. In the Western world, members of the legislative bodies, generally, enjoy limited immunity – immunity against civil actions or prosecution related to their parliamentary functions: they cannot be investigated and held accountable for what they say, the positions they take, and the way they vote. Their immunity guarantees them the freedom to exercise their legislative duties, without fear of prosecution.
The overwhelming majority of Western countries does not grant immunity for criminal acts committed outside Parliament. For example, US congressmen and British MPs can be arrested at any moment if they are accused of a felony—crimes more serious than misdemeanours. In these countries, parliamentary immunity is called “privilege from arrest” and “parliamentary privilege,” respectively.
The legal situation in Albania, however, is typical of undeveloped countries with unconsolidated democratic systems, where deputies enjoy complete immunity from arrest, even for serious crimes. That’s why the Prosecution of Serious Crimes had to ask the Albanian parliament for the permission to search Tahiri’s houses and possessions and, if necessary, to arrest or limit his freedom.
Parliament’s decision on this issue is, of course, political and it needs to be based only in the legality and legitimacy of the prosecution’s request.
However, the parliamentary majority turned the session for deciding whether to grant prosecutors their request into a quasi-court case, as Majority’s MPs interrogated the prosecutors, seeking to evaluate whether their evidence was solid, and taking upon themselves to decide whether the evidence was sufficient to consider Tahiri guilty.
Intentionally, they framed their decision for lifting Tahiri’s parliamentary privilege from arrest as a decision whether to practically arrest him or not – something which only the court can decide through a due process that includes the examination and evaluation of prosecution’s evidence. The Majority’s MPs yesterday went as far as to claim that their task was to judge whether there was enough evidence to even investigate Tahiri, which is the sole prerogative of the Prosecutors.
So they held the session as if in court, in which illegally and absurdly, interrogated the prosecution about its proof. (No matter the Parliament’s decision about his immunity, Saimir Tahiri remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.)
In fact, the effort to undermine the prosecution’s credibility yesterday was a targeted and coordinated attack of direct and indirect accusations undertaken, unfortunately, by those who for three years have presented themselves and the saviors of the judicial reform in the battle against crime and corruption. Yesterday, the mother and fathers of the reform joined together in preventing their colleague Saimir Tahiri from facing justice.
The current Minister of Interior and former Chairman of the Judicial Reform Commission launched the first salvo. Although few days ago, Xhafaj refused to comment on the scandal, stating that it belonged in the domain of justice, now he is demanding to see proofs, as if he were a judge rather than the Minister of Interior:
As far as I see they simply want to use it. …[i]f you would ask me from a legal perspective, what has been asked by the Serious Crimes Prosecutors and, based on what I have read so far, is not something that expresses the intention of the law and it’s not based on evidence.
We now have a case where prosecution is being used politically in a heated political situation. I am speaking as I see it. If the prosecution has more evidence, let’s wait for it and see it.
Before being a minister, I am a legislator and a lawyer, and I’m giving my opinion from this perspective. Percedents such as this are dangerous for justice and the parliamentary life.
Prime Minister Edi Rama voiced the same “doubts.” Even though few days ago, he called upon justice to run its course, he posted yesterday on his Facebook a rant in which he stated he had seen “zero evidence,” again, as if it were up to him to decide such a thing:
Until now, in this moment, only the gullible people and eavesdroppers that feed themselves from the trashcans of politics and of the media don’t agree with me: This is street talk, without a single proof! Zero evidence […] Street talk from days-old soup cooked in the trashcans of crime, politics, and media.
Donald Lu and Romana Vlahutin
Ambassadors Donald Lu and Romana Vlahutin haven’t made any public comment about an affair that is directly related to their aspiration to fight corruption in politics and organised crime. On the contrary, while prosecutor’s were being hammered in the parliament they chose to visit Minister Xhafaj in his office and have a long discussion with him, after he had made his scandalous remarks to the media.
What can be discussed for hours on end by two ambassadors and the minister of a country can be anyone’s guess, but their total silence and the visit to Xhafaj’s office cannot but be seen as a discouragement of the efforts of the prosecution. Especially the behaviour of Ambassador Donald Lu, whose predecessor, in total contrast, appeared in public with the prosecutor after the revelations about Ilir Meta, which concerned a lesser crime, and offered the support of the FBI to the investigation.
Even though at every turn Lu and Vlahutin preached about “capturing the big fish,” perhaps their concept of “big” is constrained to the asset registry and hospital directors that Edi Rama likes to dismiss on a weekday morning.
The former Minister of Interior Affairs of the communist regime, himself responsible for the killing of peaceful protestors during the collapse of his government, led the meeting of the parliamentary commission without rule or procedure. He turned the session, with a clear structure and order clearly laid down in the Parliamentary Regulations, into a mock trial in which the prosecutors were consistently attacked by tmajority’s MPs.
He allowed MPS to investigate the the investigation; he allowed Saimir Tahiri to question the prosecutors; he allowed Tahiri’s attorney to lecture MPs and prosecutors; and in the end he decided, without a vote or discussion, to adjourn the session so Tahiri could prepare his defence. All of these in clear violation of the Parliamentary Regulations.
One of the main drafters of the judicial reform, Vasilika Hysi, did everything in her power to delegitimate the prosecution and undermine its credibility. The famous professor of law, unbelievably mixed up the parliamentary privilege of immunity with human rights, suggesting that stripping Tahiri of his immunity was equal to violating his human rights.
Intentionally, she interpreted the word “documents” in the legal phrase “the request and its accompanying documents asking for the authorization for the criminal prosecution are presented to the Speaker of Parliament by the General Prosecutor” of Parliaments Rules of Procedure as equivalent with “evidence,” and on this based accused the prosecutors for not providing the evidence with the request, in spite of the fact that she was not in a court of law, but in a session of a parliamentary commission.
Even though the prosecution is legally allowed to start a prosecution based on media reports, Hysi insistently ridiculed the fact that the case was open based on the media reports on the evidence provided to the Italian courts by Italian prosecutors. Most importantly, she knew that the request to the parliament was based on the official reports provided through formal channels by the Italian prosecutors.
One of her main lines of argument was that a MP should not be investigated for any criminal suspicion, and that MP’s immunity can only be removed when there’s strong evidence, thus suggesting that different laws hold for MPs than for ordinary citizens.
At a certain moment, she even displayed the arrogance to address one of the prosecutors, Elisabeta Imeraj, with the question that since she recently became a professor, how would she explain to her students her request to lift Tahiri’s immunity.
Hajdari, one of the main experts involved in the drafting of the judicial reform, turned up as Saimir Tahiri’s defence attorney. Even though it is his due to defend his client at all costs, he showed a profound ignorance of or disregard for parliamentary regulations and the law, trying to turn the session into a full-blown court case.
At a certain moment, he managed to take the floor and held a long sermon about the rights of his client, completely mistaking the procedural affair of a parliamentary commission dealing with lifting of the privilege of immunity with the defence of inalienable human rights.
All the mainstream media, which for three year acted as mouthpiece for the government touting the judicial reform, these past days they have came out blasting a direct attack on the prosecutors. Media attacks reached the level of overt racism, accusing the prosecutors of being northerners from Tropoja.
Facilitated by the systematic, methodical, and debilitating attacks of the Prime Minister and foreign ambassadors on the entire judicial system during past years, the media had no troubles today unleashing personal and racist attacks on the workers of the law.
The effect of the attack and intimidation of the judicial reform gang of Rama–Xhafaj–Ruçi–Hysi–Lu–Vlahutin–Tahiri was immediate: the prosecutors abandoned their attempt to ask for their right to work for making justice. They got annoyed, got tired, got afraid, made tactical errors, and in the end abandoned any attempt and submitted to the political will of the majority. Under the pressure exerted on them the entire day, toward the end of the proceedings they were barely able to argue why their request was urgent: because of the risk that Tahiri will destroy evidence or flee the country.
The events of yesterday have shown to everyone that the judicial reform has been a game, played to perfection by Rama and his supporters, to justify their own privileges and the complete and abusive capture of the Albanian state.