Wiretappings proving the involvement of the socialist Mayor of Durres, Vangjush Dako, offering to criminal organizations state favours in exchange of influencing voters during the 2017 general elections, have been recently made public.
These interceptions are part of a Prosecution investigation, launched for international drug trafficking, represented by Prosecution file no. 339/2017. The criminal organization, run by the Avdylaj brothers, operated in Albania, Kosovo and Germany.
The interceptions caught on tape dozens of phone conversations between the heads of this criminal organization (Avdylaj brothers) and the Socialist Mayor Vangjush Dako.
The Prosecution file 339 is a blatant example of the deterioration of the electoral standards in Albania as it gathers abundant evidences and examples how vote-buying operates in concrete terms. It confirms that the cooperation with criminal organisations was a clear massive electoral strategy of the Socialist ruling party during the 2017 legislative elections.
HOW DID THE INVESTIGATION FOR THIS CASE START?
Below a chronology of what is known so far on how the investigation begun regarding this case: • The Kosovo Prosecution Office had investigated for several years a criminal organization involved in the international trafficking of narcotics.• The Kosovo Prosecution Office suspected that several Kosovar criminal organizations cooperated with the Albanian organizations, for transporting drugs from Kosovo to Durres and from there to EU countries.• After some Albanian gangs were put under surveillance, suspected as collaborators of the Kosovo criminal organization, recorded telephone conversations showed Albanian gangs exchanging with the Mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako. These conversations were mainly about vote-buying for Vangjush Dako in exchange for public tenders.• Doubts about the involvement of a senior official with the criminal organizations complicated further Kosovo’s Prosecution Office regarding this issue, forcing him to cooperate later with the Special Prosecution Office and EULEX.• In order to clear out the case, the Kosovo Prosecution Office handed over the investigation file also to the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes in Durres, which engaged the prosecutor Anton Martini for the matter.• The news regarding the Kosovo file and the investigation relating to the Mayor Gjushi was not made public until November 20th, when the Democratic Party Chairman Lulzim Basha denounced the removal from the case, of the prosecutor Anton Martini, who was transferred from the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office in Durres to the Shkodra Prosecution Office.• Mr. Basha said that Martini’s removal, signed on November 10th, was made after the intervention of Prime Minister Rama, to remove the prosecutor from the Dako case. • Mr. Basha confirmed that the Mayor of Durrës Dako was caught in telephone conversations bargaining for vote-buying in exchange for public tenders with criminal groups and that these wiretaps were made by other countries (referring to Kosovo) and other international services (referring to EULEX). This fact was denounced to the public by the Democratic Party one year ago. Vangjush Dako filed a suit for defamation in court, but the court ruled in May 2018 against Dako, as it appeared to have provided evidences on the existence of the investigation.
WHO IS THE HEAD OF THE CRIMINAL ORGANIZATION, ASTRIT AVDYLAJ?
Astrit Avdylaj, was sentenced to 16 years in jail for a murder in 1997, undertook a 10-year legal battle for his early release from the Shenkolli detention institution, which he succeeded. The court records show that Astrit Avdyli was released after 13 years of prison, after he provided a diagnosis with “Depression with attempted suicide“. He was released from jail on March 2nd, 2016, due to a Supreme Court decision that ordered his early release, arguing that “staying in jail would endanger his life”. The data provided shortly after his release from prison, show that Avdyli was placed under investigation for involvement of heavy drugs trafficking, at EULEX’s request.
WHO IS VANGJUSH DAKO?
Vangjush Dako is the Durres Municipality Mayor, a candidate of the Socialist Party since his election back on 2007. As he has been a Mayor for the last 3 mandates, Dako was appointed by PM Rama as the political leader of the 2017 Socialist Party legislative campaign for the entire Durrës Region (including the cities of Durres, Shijak and Kruja). Vangjush Dako, is a member of the Socialist Party Presidency and is known as a close friend of PM Rama and former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri. During his mandate as a mayor, the Durres Region has become a national center for organized crime in Albania. It should be noted that Vangjush Dako has also provided few months before the 2017 parliamentary elections — more precisely on December 2016 — a special warrant to the court, in his title of being a Mayor, for the early release from prison of the head of the Durres gang, one of the most dangerous criminals of Albania, Mr. Lulzim Berisha.
WHAT CONTAINS THE WIRETAPPING MADE PUBLIC IN THE MEDIA?
The Regional Investigative Network BIRN, and later “Voice of America”, published several wiretaps between Vangjush Dako and the Abdylaj criminal group relating to vote-buying in the 2017 parliamentary elections. Several wiretaps and documents provided by BIRN relating to an investigation of the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office — encompassing only one criminal group and one sole investigation — cast light on the involvement of organized crime in vote-buying episodes in at least in 3 regions, Durres, Tirana and Lezh. These tree counties representing 55 mandates out of 140 parliamentary seats. The investigations regarding the files no. 339 and 339/1 started 2 years ago, and continue still today without any result. The Regional Investigation Network BIRN reported that a series of packed CD boxes await to be disclosed. According to the journalist who conducted the investigation, one of the boxes distinguishes the handwritten note “corruption and vote-buying: 42 CD’s”. It points out that there are still dozens of non-transcripted CDs. The data provided by BIRN shed light on episodes of organized crime involvement in the 2017 parliamentary elections in Durres, Kavajë and Lezha. BIRN investigative and intercepting documents show that members of the Avdyli group were involved in vote-buying in support of Vangjush Dako, Mayor of Durres, during the parliamentary elections of June 25th 2017. The telephone conversations also show a lengthy relationship between Dako and Avdyli brothers, whose contribution to the election was rewarded with access to several key public institutions in Durres. For two and a half years, the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes conducted hundreds of hours of wiretaps and changed three prosecutor groups, until it filed charges for international drug trafficking, corruption, exercise of unlawful influence and massive falsification with properties on October 2018. “Their criminal activity was based in Shijak, serving also as a collecting point, with principal referent the Avdyli brothers, pivot point of strong drug suppliers, mainly heroin and cocaine, for the nationwide territory”, the prosecutor’s request stated to the court. The interceptions provided by BIRN, which are part of the file no. 339/1, show that Altin Avdyli, known as Niçja, has had continuing telephonic communication with the Durres mayor Vangjush Dako, between January 2017 and February 2018. The wiretaps also show that the two brothers Astrit and Altin Avdyli have had personal lunches Dakon at least two times early 2017.
On the eve of June 24th 2017, Altin Avdyli was intercepted communicating with an unknown person promising six votes while asking Altin to “tell Vangjush to give some money for those votes.” Two days after election day, on June 27th, 2017, Dako is intercepted again, while having a call conversation with Altin Avdyli asking to meet his brother Astrit. According to the transcripts Dako says: “I wanted to meet him, to thank him, ask him…”. Interceptions obtained by BIRN show that Dako was the highest senior official, but not the only one that cultivated mutual relations with the Avdyli brothers. Dozens of local officials from key institutions, such as INUK inspectors, Municipal senior officials, Durres Port Security officials, and from the university “Aleksander Moisiu”, have been intercepted to communicate with the Avdyli brothers while the later were asking for different kind of favors during early 2018.
WHAT DO THE LEAKED WIRETAPS SHOW, CONSIDERING THEY REPRESENT ONLY THREE PHONE INTERCEPTIONS, OUT OF THOUSANDS THAT ARE STILL IN THE FOLDER?
From the wiretaps made public until now, there are five issues that can be highlighted:
1-Vangjush Dako, Mayor of Durres for three mandates, one of the closest friends of Prime Minister Rama and a political leader for the District of Durres in 2017, has a personal friendship with the head of a criminal organization, Astrit Avdylaj, sentenced for a 16-year jail term. The criminal group, led by Astrit Avdylaj and his brother, was arrested on October 21, 2018, following the assistance of German law enforcement authorities for the involvement in cocaine trafficking from Albania to Germany.
2 – Members of the criminal group have participated actively in manipulating the elections, threatening, influencing and paying voters.
3 – Mayor Dako recognized their contribution to the elections by awarding them public contracts and building permits.
4 – The Prosecution Office admitted that an investigation on Vangjush Dako was under way, but without specifying its content. Even though Vangjush Dako is not only currently free, but has declared to BIRN Regional Investigation Network, that the Prosecution has never called him.
5 – Dako is free and remains still a Mayor. Meanwhile, none has been arrested for this issue.
On public TV interviews, Vangjush Dako has denied his friendship or acquittance with the members of this criminal gang, while defending himself of having contact with them only during the electoral campaign period, similarly as he may have contacted any other citizen. On October 25th, during the “Opinion” TV show, Dako declared publicly that “Niçja is a citizen of Durrës, that has been caught, and with whom I have exchanged. In all campaigns, when an electoral meeting ends, I say thank you to all the people. I make a contact with them, I send them thank you letters. While Astrit was the brother of Niçe. This is politics, the minimum is a phone call.”
On February 14th, invited to speak to the “Top Story” TV show broadcasted by Vizion Plus tv channel, PM Rama answers to the question if he will put forward again the candidacy of Dako even after these facts were made public, by stating that: “ as of these proofs that came out, Dako can run for another 500 more times”. He then put under questions media credibility and that of Voice of America, BIRN, DW, etc. that reported the case.
The Democratic Party has repeatedly stated that only the judicial punishment of the perpetrators of these electoral crimes could somewhat restore public confidence in the elections.
On the other hand, the German Federal Foreign Office has twice claimed the case must be clarified before the court. The Albanian rapporteur of the CDU / CSU faction Christian Schmidt said on April 25 to a local Albanian tv station that “he expected that the findings of the prosecutor will be investigated and perpetrators will be punished“.
IS THIS, THE SOLE PENAL INVESTIGATION FOR CRIME INVOLVEMENT IN THE 2017 ELECTIONS, BEING HELD HOSTAGE BY THE PROSECUTION OFFICE?
The Municipality of Durrës appears to be one of the influence areas of the suspected criminal group, while the data from the investigation show that they are involved also in the city of Kavaja. As of the activity based in the city of Lezha, part of this investigation, the interceptions show the brother of former socialist MP Arben Ndoka, to talk similarly about vote-buying. “From the interceptions of the phone used by the citizen Gjevi Ndoka, there are evidences that this individual in cooperation with other individuals, before and during the electoral campaign period, has been involved in an active manner, by offering cash to voters in exchange of their vote for MP candidates of the Socialist Party, facts that are confirmed by the interceptions”, one can read in the Prosecution file.
An intercepted phone call, two days after elections day, which according to the prosecutors is in the area of Kavaja, reconfirms not only the vote buying phenomenon, but also the request to take a photography of the vote and the pressure to bring the given money back. “It’s filmed that thing, don’t mention it anymore. I want him to give me back the money. Miri, that discussion is over”, one of the individuals can be heard talking in the interception. ”We give them money to deal with your issues and concerns, it’s not ok to give money and not give the vote”, the exchange goes, while seeking the immediate return of the given money.
The involvement of the “Avdyli” gang in vote-buying is not an isolated case. A second investigation of the Serious Crimes Prosecution office, started after the denunciation of the Democratic Party relating to the manipulation of the partial local elections held on September 2016 in Dibra, shows as well that individuals with criminal records and high senior public officials were influencing and manipulating citizens’ vote.
This investigation raises doubts on the involvement of local officials and individuals with criminal records in vote-buying, promises for job positions, and in some occasions, even threats. For two years and a half, the Prosecution file nr.184/2016 was transferred to one prosecutor to another, while being further delayed and not finalized.
The former prosecutor of the case, Gentian Trenova, who was the first to work on the accusations of the Democratic Party, reminds for BIRN that right after the starting of the investigations, 20 phone numbers were put under interceptions, “During 8,9, and 10 September, we intercepted a dozen of phone calls, in which, among other, it was mention of vote-buying”, says Trenova, who adds that among the intercepted phone calls, there were also high senior officials of the Socialist Party.
BIRN learned that the Serious Crimes Prosecution Office has put under investigation several Police senior officials from Dibra and Bulqiza, but also officials of the Education and Tax Directorates, who are suspected being involved in an unlawful manner during the electoral process or have promised jobs in exchange of votes. Nevertheless, similarly like with Prosecution File 339/1, the investigation for vote manipulations in Dibra is being delayed by the voluminous size of the intercepted calls – close to 60 CD still await to be transcripted.
WHAT DOES THE OSCE/ODHIR REPORT STATE ON THE 2017 ELECTIONS RELATING TO THIS ISSUE?
Allegations relating to vote-buying have been reflected also in the last OSCE/ODHIR report stating : “both these parties (Democratic Party and Socialist Movement for Integration) have demonstrated concrete cases, but in absence of sufficient concluding evidences, couldn’t present any legal complaint against these results. Even though they reconfirmed their firm declaration that the scale of vote-buying was connected to large amounts of money invested by the criminal cultivation of drugs”. For the first time, the need to address the vote-buying phenomenon has been ranked by OSCE/ODHIR as a Priority Recommendation nr.2, as part of its Report on the 2017 elections in Albania.