Description of the criminal context in Elbasan
It is important to clarify first the impact of organized crime on the way they expanded their enrichment from criminal activities and the impact that these groups / formations / criminal structures have toward the local government, executive or justice institutions and political life in the Elbasan region.
The central geographical position of the Elbasan region has made it the main hub of crossroad for hard drugs (mainly heroin and cocaine) and consequently the establishment of well-organized criminal groups, with very large financial capital. They are known of a large series of crimes such as murders, hostage-taking, fines, drug trafficking and other serious criminal offenses.
To recall as an example, it was thanks to the support of European partner agencies that on 2015, one of the largest laboratories for the processing of hard drugs in the Balkans was discovered. The laboratory was located in Xibraka, Elbasan. The criminal group involved in it appeared to supporters of Taulant Balla (SP General Secretary) and the SP. The nephew of the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha was among the convicted individuals in this case, in adittion to a number of individuals connected to Prime Minister Edi Rama’s brother.
One of the persons involved in the laboratory of Xibraka was also Pjerin Xhuvani, with the nickname “Pipi”, a physician by profession, convicted for numerous criminal offenses. He has reappeared alongside the Socialist recent campaign in Elbasan, including in the physical clash against the opposition sympathizers during the incident of March 14th.
In the Elbasan region, criminal groups have a deep impact on the political life and of public institutions, namely:
- On the appointment, transfer or dismissal of managers and employees of the State Police, Prisons, Prosecution, Municipality, Energy, etc.
- On determining the beneficiaries of public tenders in the region of Elbasan, and using such gains in the electoral campaign, including by using human and criminal ressources against political opponents, abuses with ID card, forcing to cast citizens’ vote for the SP etc.
- On orientating the financial and logistical support towards the SP city “strongmen”, candidates for central / local government and the parliament of the Republic of Albania.
- On using the influence of local and central government, during past elections with the objective to illegally manipulate and distort the election result by intimidating persons involved in the process (commissioner / enumerator / observer / voter) and thus influencing the free will of voters and the outcome of the April 25, 2021 elections.
- On pressuring, harassing, beating, blackmailing, and by using other forms of physical / psychological pressure towards political representatives.
- By purchasing ID cards of non SP voters.
- By giving money to commissioners, voters, or using other forms of seduction in exchange for the vote as it can be: housing restorations, seasonal employments and other various forms.
A pyramidal system
Elbasan region has a specificity in relation to any other region of the Republic of Albania, due to an extreme centralization, command and linkage between organized crime and politics. It appears criminal groups act in full harmonization and coordination in their criminal actions and activities with local and national SP representatives. SP political directives/orders appear to be fully protected by criminal interests, and this is not observed in any other region in Albania at the magnitude faces in Elbasan.
Taulant Balla and his criminal connections appear to stay at the top of this pyramid, while descending in a hierarchical manner down to other SP MP candidates. In order to prevent or diminish as much as possible the criminal impact on the election process of April 25th in the region of Elbasan, it can be easily prevented by using basic evidences and instruments which are legally and largely documented. As an example, we can mention the accusations addressed to Taulant Balla in terms of his support to Edmond Bego, suspected of being a strong representative of organized crime in the area. There are also rumors that Balla is funded and supported by Elton Janina in Librazhd and Prrenjas, and by Gjergj Luca and Suel Cela’s criminal group in Elbasan.
Qazim Sejdini may be the second person to follow this pyramid. The former mayor of Elbasan for three consecutive terms, he is well known for his familial and personal links with organized crime and for his corruption affairs. For instance, Sokol Sanxhaktari, his son-in-law, is considered to be one of the most prominent criminals in the city of Elbasan, operating withing the criminal group ” Sanxhaktari-Çela”. Sokol Sanxhaktari is currently detained in Elbasan for the criminal offense of murder. According to highly confidential information, it appears that his prosecutorial file for murder has been transferred to a prosecutor known for his political ties, who will soon ease the charges for Sanxhaktari.
To continue with SP candidates in the Elbasan region, the situation is as follows;
- Klevis Xhoxhi – the nephew of Qazim Sejdini’s wife. He is strongly supported by the criminal group of Suel Çela.
- Besian Ajazi – former advisor to Taulant Balla, currently an MP candidate, brother of Kreshnik Ajazi, Head of the Prosecution Office.
- Desantila Tahiraj – Director of the Elbasan Regional Hospital, known for many abuses with her duties, accused for illegal employment and corrupt practices.
- Sajmir Hasalla – the son-in-law of former MP Aqif Rakipi, he is strongly supported by the criminal group of Ardian Rakipi, who is also Aqif Rakipi’s brother. Ardian Rakipi is one of the most powerful traffickers of hard drugs not only in the country but with a criminal activity spread in the Netherlands, Italy and England.
A concrete example of criminal violence in an electoral context
On March 14th 2021 at 10:00 am according to the official announcement as a political entity, the Democratic Party of Albania was due to organise an activity on the occasion of the “Summer Day” on the main city boulevard of Elbasan.
Around 10:20, DP chairman, Mr. Lulzim Basha was holding a meeting inside of the former Tourism Hotel while the DP supporters were standing outside in the parking square of the building. In parallel, in the city main boulevard and in front of the building, the Prime Minister Edi Rama was walking accompanied local SP officials, supporters and other individuals known for their criminal offences.
Some of DP sympathizers accompanied the Prime Minister’s walk with the call “Rama Leave”. At this very moment, some of individuals with records who were close to PM Rama, broke away and clashed, pushing, cursing and threatening DP supporters thereby. Among the aggressors, was Pjerin Xhuvani and Marsel Rrokaj, son of Agron Rrokaj (Chief of Human Resources of the Directorate of Elbasan Prisons). With the intervention of some other individuals it became possible to avoid the escalation of the physical conflict.
40 minutes later, once Prime Minister returned, some DP sympathizers repeated the calls “Rama Leave”. At this moment, the Prime Minister stopped and turned in front of the DP supporters, making gestures with his hands and head. Some of the supporters who accompanied PM Rama separated from him and started to threaten and to curse the leader of the Opposition and his supporters. These individuals are:
- Pjerin Anastas Xhuvani, born on 02.11.1965,
- Klemend Ymer Xhaferri, born on 25.12.1982,
- Marsel Agron Rroka, born on 23.03.1987,
- Gëzim Shpendi Rusi, date of birth 18.05.1998,
- Ernaldo Përparim Metaj, born on March 27, 2001
- Erest Mustafa Skilja, born on 18.09.1977
All the above persons are believed to be among the financial sponsors of the Socialist Party in Elbasan, and have criminal records for criminal offenses in the field of organized crime, money laundering and crimes against life and property.
The next day of this incident, on March 15th 2021 at 15:30, in the electoral offices of DP in the neighborhood “5 May” and “Vullnetari”, Klemend Xhaferri and Ernaldo Metaj and two other members of this group, have life threatened and blackmailed the closure of DP offices of the area. This incident occurred after the reaction of the DP General Secretary, Mr. Gazmend Bardhi, who made a media statement by naming the above-mentioned people who were involved in the violent acts of the previous day.
Subsequently, on March 17th 2021 at 11.00, the citizen Ernaldo Metaj repeatedly threatened the DP members and staff of the electoral office in the neighborhood “5 May”, who after the intervention of the secretary for security issues in the DP Branch of Elbasan and their denunciation it became possible his accompaniment by the police. Although he was involved in the incidents of March 14th, where there were filmed evidences of him using physical assault to some of the DP sympathizers and activists, he hadn’t been stopped by the police until this moment. Indeed, Metaj was released shortly afterwards although involved in several incidents and contrary to any legal procedures, by the heads of the Elbasan Police and Prosecutor’s Office.
On March 18th at 08:54 am, appx. 2 km from the exit Tirana – Elbasan tunnel, the front windscreen of a vehicle used by the Arjan Hoxha was hit. Hoxha is the DP Secretary of security issues Elbasan. The Elbasan Judicial District Prosecutor’s Office was also informed about the event.
On March 18th at 15:15 after an electoral activity in “Labinot Fushe”, the DP candidate Mr. Luciano Boci, a university professor, was physically assaulted and punched in the face, by Gjergj Luca and other unidentified persons. The Elbasan Judicial District Prosecutor’s Office was also informed about this escalating event.
Beyond these violent attacks and the obstruction of the electoral subjects, these criminal groups are believed to be also involved in the collection of ID cards, supposedly with the consent of SP leaders and Taulant Balla. Some of the names potentially related to these activities are:
- Gjergj Luca, owner of “Rozafa” enterprise, in the area of Labinot Mal.
- Endi Haxhia (grandson of Suel Çela), Mario Çela, Gëzim Rusi, etc., in the 5 May neighborhood.
- Gent Sharra, Marsel Rroka and his brother (Agron Rrokaj’s sons) and Klement Xhaferri in Fushë Mbret.
It is important to recall that the head of the Prosecution office in Elbasan is in conflict of interest with the above mentioned individuals because of his family connection with the candidacies of the Socialist Party. This is one of the reasons why no one has been arrested in relation to the violence and attacks carried out against the DP branch in Elbasan.
Another worrying aspect relates to the State Police actions which are totally insufficient, as they have not exercised their legal competencies and duties in preventing such violent deterioration of the electoral climate in Elbasan, nor have they exerted any legal obligation towards the persons involved in these cases.