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News 08 Jul 13

Albania Judicial Appointments Cause Controversy

The appointment of a number of controversial judges to Tirana’s appeals court has raised questions about the Albanian president’s stance on the rule of law.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
Albania President Bujar Nishani

The High Council of Justice, HCJ, an institution headed by President Bujar Nishani which acts as a sort of governing body for the judicial system, promoted on Friday six new judges and one of its own members to the appeals court, one of the most important judicial institutions in the country.

Friday’s appointments included a number of controversial judges who have overseen high-profile trials during their tenure and are perceived to have been under the direct influence of the Democratic Party of outgoing Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

Critics say that the latest promotions not only raise serious questions about the president’s respect for the rule of law but also about his independence from his former Democratic Party boss Berisha.

Nishani served as interior minister and justice minister in Berisha’s centre-right cabinet before his election as president in 2012 with votes from the Democratic Party and its junior government allies.

The HCJ also promoted one of its most controversial members to the board of the school of magistrates, a move that sources in the judiciary allege is aimed at undermining the body’s independence.

Local observers have suggested that the appointments are a move by the Democrats to reward judges who have helped them emerge unscathed by the many scandals that plagued their tenure in power which was ended by defeat in the June 23 parliamentary elections by the Socialist-led opposition.

The HJC promoted judges Ridvan Hado and Fatmira Hajdari to the appeals court. Both judges delivered the verdict in the case brought after a deadly ammunition blast in March 2008 in the village of Gerdec, which killed 26 people and wounded over 300.

Their verdict on the 28 defendants, who included senior government officials and army top brass, was considered too lenient by experts and the public.

One of the other appointees, judge Agim Bendo, slapped Albania’s Top-Channel TV with a 400,000 euro fine in 2011, after its journalists exposed a minister who solicited sex from young women who were looking for jobs.

Shkelqim Mustafa, another promoted judge, refused to incarcerate General Ndrea Prendi, the former head of the Republican Guard, who was accused of the murder of opposition protestors during the January 2011 riots in Tirana.  

Ilir Mustafaj, a member of the HCJ, was also promoted to the appeals court, despite the law not permitting members of the council to advance their careers during their mandate.

The promotion of one of their own to the court raises serious questions over conflicts of interest in the Council, critics say; five other members of the HCJ have also applied to be appointed to the same court.

In an interview for the daily newspaper Mapo, Socialist MP Damian Gjiknuri called on the new government that will take office in September to pay close attention to the HJC promotions.

“The new majority should not close its eyes to injustice and the further destruction of the justice system, when it sees the members of the HCJ promoting themselves to office, ironically under the supervision of the president,” Gjiknuri said.  

Writing in the daily Tema, political commentator Mero Baze said that Nishani was giving the impression that he wants to extend Berisha’s hold on power which he lost at the elections.

“In the High Council of Justice, Nishani again promoted Berisha’s people, those most incriminated,” Baze wrote.

“The way things are going, the new majority’s first battle with public opinion will be whether to keep him in office,” he added.

Speaking during the HCJ meeting on Friday, Nishani said that the court appointments were being made purely on merit.

“This council for the first time used a model for the promotion of judges that is not based on political blackmail or friendship and cronyism,” he said.

The HCJ on Friday also replaced a member of the board of the school of magistrates, Sokol Binaj.

Binaj’s mandate was cut short after “losing the trust of the council” and was replaced by HCJ member Gjin Gjoni, who in the past has been at the centre of corruption allegations.

A high-level source in the justice system, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Balkan Insight that Binaj was replaced in order to clear the way for the promotion of another of the HCJ’s members, Neshat Fana, as head of the school of magistrates.

Fana is a government appointee to the HCJ and is well-known as a lawyer for having represented Prime Minister Berisha.  

“They want to control the justice system at its roots,” the source added.

 

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