AIM: start

THU, 04 APR 2002 21:07:52 GMT

Chief Prosecutor Relieved of Duty and Power of Politics Unquestioned

AIM Tirana, March 25, 2002

Since parliamentary elections of June 24, 2001, that the opposition believes had been manipulated and that OSCE international observers evaluated as "subject to criticism", political life in Albania has not calmed down. Immediately after the elections, although it had offered guarantees that it would keep its protest under control and within institutional limits, the opposition boycotted the work of the parliament and launched a campaign to document election manipulations and make international institutions aware of the proportions of this manipulation. In a most unexpected and most curious way, although it was expected that they would use the wishy-washy international evaluations of the elections that they were "irregular, but acceptable", the Socialists stopped at the very first step in constituting the new authorities.

With the logic rarely observed in political parties in parliamentary elections, just a few hours after the big election competition, they started a powerful and sharp party competition for the nomination of a new prime minister. This competition lasted for a few weeks and after a vehement public debate between the president of the party Fatos Nano and the former prime minister Ilir Meta, thanks to bigger support in party committees and contrary to the will of the historical leader of the Socialists, the latter succeeded to become elected prime minister and establish the government with his newly proclaimed supporters.

He was not given much time to rejoice in his victory, because Fatos Nano launched a new campaign he called "communication with the party base", although it would suit it much better if it were called: "moral and political crucifixion of the new prime minister". Using his known charisma, mobilization of a large part of the media to cover every step of this campaign and his political authority among the Orthodox masses of Albanian Socialists, he achieved his goal. With heavy specific and nominally addressed accusations Nano uttered in a packed hall of his followers, he convinced a significant part of the public that the Prime Minister and the ministers of the new Government were corrupt. The sensitivity of the public concerning this issue has been and still is very high. On the other hand, Meta and his followers have not at all seriously responded in order to deny the pronounced accusations or in a similar manner accuse Nano who managed to create a myth of his honesty. He proclaimed himself a "knight" struggling against corruption and many people believed him.

Prime Minister Meta, among other, surrounded by media pressure, has found himself isolated. He submitted his resignation and immediately after that nominated for the post his age-mate, known former Albanian prime minister from the time of the war in Kosovo and NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Pandeli Majko. The new government was a reflection of respected relation of forces among rival groups within the Socialist Party. But it soon became clear that, although they had agreed to establish a government in which they would be equally represented, even in numbers, these groups could agree about nothing else.

With his publicly stated accusations, Nano had already opened his Pandora's box. The cards were on the table and it was impossible to hide them any more. The main prosecutor's office joined in the game and proclaimed that based on the statements and accusations of the Socialists' leader it launched an investigation against a few ministers and state officials known as Meta's supporters. That is where political action began against Main Prosecutor Arben Rakipi which ended with the demand of the opposition supported by numerous and powerful Meta's group that he be relieved of duty at a long and ardent parliamentary session. At 2.30 in the morning on March 18, 2002, by a majority of votes Albanian parliament decided to request President of the Republic Rexhep Meidani to relieve Chief Prosecutor of duty. The motivation was found in the constitutional formulation that enables different interpretations: "For action and behavior that heavily tarnishes the post of the chief prosecutor of the Republic". It is most likely that the President who feels weakened because he is at the end of his five-year term in office and who needs support because he wishes to be re-elected in June, will grant the request of the parliament. The curtain falls.

If carefully observed, this event reveals clear elements of a still unstable and undemocratic state in Albania, but most of all proves, first, the fragility and institutional and constitutional weakness of the judiciary, and second, the malevolent capacity of Albanian politics to create dubious transversal alliances at dubious moments and with dubious motives. Such an alliance was the one established between the opposition under command of former President Sali Berisha and the biggest part of the parliamentary group of Socialists under the command of former prime minister Ilir Meta. One of such moments was the discharge of the Chief Prosecutor. The motives why this alliance was established have little to do with the effort to defend the constitution, the state of law, to guarantee professional and moral integrity of the prosecution authorities in order to make the struggle against corruption effective, which again does not mean that the law protects the relieved chief prosecutor and his political sponsors headed by Fatos Nano.

A healthy part of Albanian public has for some time believed that the prosecution service in general and especially the Chief Prosecutor himself have not been successful in discharging their duties and for that reason the need to call these institutions to account was expressed a long time ago. According to this view, this process should have begun by relieving Rakipi of duty. The latter had already suffered a severe blow on the moral level at the moment when his friendly connection with a group of narcotics dealers was revealed. Without having concealed this friendship for a single moment, he became the initiator of arrests and investigations against that very group, which certainly was not sufficient to neutralize the moral effect of this fact on the authority of the Chief Prosecutor.

Besides, he failed in the confidential investigation of the murder of the leader of Democratic Party Azem Hajdari and he avoided the investigation against certain government officials suspected of crimes. He and some of his subordinates more than once took on the roles of political protagonists. All that, but especially the failure in the struggle against corruption (Albanian public administration together with the governments that came one after the other, was evaluated by well informed domestic and foreign centers in a well documented manner as one of the most corrupt in Europe) made discontent with him and the institution he represents manifold and legitimate. During all this time, not once has the opposition or any other parliamentary segment of the majority demanded his removal from the post or a debate in the parliament about his activities. This request that he be relieved of duty arrived at the very moment when the Chief Prosecutor announced a series of investigations against certain officials and former important state officials who were believed to be if not friends of former prime minister Meta, at least his public supporters. One of the prominent names on the list is the name of former minister of power supply in the latest cabinet of Meta, Dritan Prifti, who is accused of having violated the law in organizing the public tender for the purchase of electric power in which the profit (according to Fatos Nano) reaches the figure of several million dollars. Rumour has it that among the names of persons under investigation is that of Ilir Meta himself.

There is no doubt that synchronization between delayed mobilization in the campaign against Rakipi's corruption and Nano's political campaign against Meta is a compromising, political inspiration of Chief Prosecutor and that it is not a guess. That is certain. Moral unmasking and criminal procedure against Meta gave clear advantage to Nano in the political struggle within the party against his biggest rival. But on the other hand almost everybody is certain that the investigation was aimed at detecting abuse of power for the purpose of profiteering. And exactly in that situation the alliance between Meta and Berisha is shaping itself. The objective of this political game is very obvious, but the alliance is still queer. In his political role of the head of the opposition Berisha has never attacked anyone as he attacked Prime Minister Meta. He considered him a murderer and the mastermind of political murders, a corrupt man, a thief, a mobster, and so on. Before Fatos Nano announced the campaign against government corruption, he had said the same things. He did not even shrink from publicly sending signals of support to Nano in the struggle he had started. Ironically, he even advised Nano to address accusations to the prosecutor's office in order to make it get down to work. And as soon as Rakipi got busy, Berisha organized the parliamentary debate in which he demanded his removal. The aim? He is not interested in discovering corruption and punishing the corrupt. All he has in mind is making pure political profit, or more precisely a deep split in the Socialist party, and as a result of that breaking down the parliamentary majority and drawing nearer to early elections.

Meta looked upon flirtation with Berisha in a similar way. He might have felt directly threatened by the Prosecutor who had intended to strike his first blow against corruption in the period of five years against Meta himself politically prompted by Meta's opponents. If that is true, it is only natural that in such cases the self-defensive instinct is more powerful than any political explanation. The alliance with Berisha offered him protection. But there is another political motive. Meta is in fact the only person in the Socialist Party who cannot only be an equal rival to Nano, but who can even overthrow him. In this race for the control of the Socialist Party he wishes to deprive Nano of a non-political weapon such as – the Chief Prosecutor. Indeed, even if Chief Prosecutor had not been Nano's weapon the latter received a severe political blow with his removal from the post. Rakipi was Nano's stake in the political game he had played but especially in the race with Meta. Nano has lost this stake. Together with him he has lost much of the image of an invincible player that he and the others had got used to in the past months.

There are probably very few Albanians who believe that the removal of the Chief Prosecutor will mark the beginning of a true struggle against corruption. This act of the parliament instead to be a justified reaction against a chief prosecutor who should be relieved of duty is observed as the triumph of unprincipled political games and as a challenge politics is addressing to state institutions. In the past few days it is possible to hear a simple explanation of Albanian citizens: “Fine, an unacceptable and corrupt chief prosecutor is removed from the post by politicians, but God only knows how can unacceptable and corrupt politicians who are violating the Constitution all the time be ‘removed’”. The myth of politics in Albania is more powerful than ever. The highest officials of the judiciary who are elected and relieved of duty by the parliament have drawn a lesson. They know that they have to be careful if they decide to act against corrupt politicians, or else they will have to account to political alliances that are inexplicable and that will very easily decide about their destiny and careers. Albanian judiciary has thousands of problems, but it has never been terrorized by politics to such an extent as they are now.

Mustafa NANO