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News 14 Feb 13

Albania Court Slashes Deadly Blast Case Sentences

A key defendant accused of murder over the 2008 blast in the Gerdec munitions plant, which killed 26 people, awaits freedom following an appeal court ruling on Wednesday.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
Zamira Durda, right, whose 6-year old son died in a deadly 2008 explosion at an ammunition disposal factory that killed 26 people, speaks to reporters in capital Tirana Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 Durda said it was 'shameful' the verdict of the appeals court that only lowered the jail sentences for the main culprits. Photo by : AP

The Tirana Appeal Court has slashed a third off the ten-year prison sentence of Mihal Delijorgji, owner of Alba-Demil, the firm managing the plant.

The court also sequestered Delijorgji’s wealth and assets.

Dritan Minxholi, manager of the munitions demolition plant, sentenced to 18 years, will now only serve 12 of them.

The court also cut the sentence for the former head of Albania’s arms exports agency, Ylli Pinari, from 18 years to 10.

Prosecutors had sought life sentences for all three, who were accused of murder under aggravated circumstances.

In its arguments, the court says that “the tragic deaths cannot be a subject [to charges of murder] because they are only a consequence of lax safety rules at the plant.”

The Appeals Court also reduced the sentence for abuse of power of former army chief of staff, General Luan Hoxha, from seven years to six.

Zija Bahja, another general, was handed a suspended sentence.

“Because the three years Delijorgji had spent already in prison are counted 1.5 times, plus two years under house arrest, he will not likely serve any more time,” Andi Kananaj, a lawyer from the Res Publica center in Tirana, who represents the victims’ families, said.

“Minxholi could also apply for an alternative sentence after he completes three-quarters of his sentence, and Pinari will be out in a short time for good behaviour,” Kananaj added.

The March 2008 explosion ripped through a former army barracks used as a collection point for old Chinese and Soviet-made shells that a Alba-Demil was demilitarizing to extract the metal.

Immediately after the explosion it emerged that the company blatantly disregarded safety rules. The investigation led to criminal charges being filed against 29 people, ranging from abuse of power to murder. Among them were former senior officials from the Defence Ministry, with charges ranging from abuse of power to murder.

The ruling, which was handed down under a heavy police presence, follows the acquittal of two officers accused of killing three protestors during the January 21, 2011 riots on Monday.   

The families of victims who were present during the trial issued a statement condemning the sentences and complaining that justice had not been done.

“Private corruption and the state killed our loved ones in the middle of the day,” the statement said.

“The Albanian justice system made everything in its power in order for those guilty to not receive the merited sentence,” it concluded.

 

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