It’s 2022. It’s been more than five years since the vetting process began, more than 3 years since a large number of judges have been dismissed due to their inability to justify their financial means. A significant number of former judges already practice the profession of lawyer, allowed by the legal provisions agreed between the Bar Association and politicians. The responsibility on the unjustified wealth of these former magistrates still remains orphan.
Authors: Dallandyshe Xhaferri and Esmeralda Pashollari
On February 10 of this year, the Assembly of Albania approved with 118 votes in favor, the extension by 36 months of the function of the bodies responsible for the running of the transitional evaluation process of the magistrates of the Republic of Albania, with all the constituent institutions, the Independent Qualification Commission, Special Board of Appeal and Public Commissioners.
According to the analyzes made by the Legislative Council, in four years of activity, the Justice Reform bodies have managed to re-evaluate a large part of the files of judges and prosecutors, but 1/3 of them still remain in process or it has not started yet.
Until today, the vetting bodies have issued a decision to dismiss 122 judges and 75 prosecutors, since the start of the vetting process in Albania until June 30th of this year, while the process has been interrupted for 49 judges and 21 prosecutors.
“Until today, the Commission has not dismissed any re-evaluation subject based solely on the professional criterion”, – it is stated in the official written response of the KPK, where it is emphasized that “the majority of dismissal decisions belong to those subjects who could not pass the filter for the wealth criterion”.
According to this institution, until June 30th 2022, 217 of its decisions have been appealed to the KPA, among which those who have been dismissed and those who have resigned according to Article G of the Constitutional Annex, or in cases where the process ended without a decision.
“119 of them are dismissed judges”, – it is said in the answer, while it is affirmed that the KPK has issued a decision to dismiss 75 prosecutors, one inspector of the ILD and one of the KLGJ, meanwhile 2 legal assistants have been dismissed as well.
Although the approval of the Justice Reform in July 2016 has been described as a historic decision, the observations made by the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism show that many former judges dismissed during the vetting process have not been excluded from the Justice System itself.
“Over 90% of former judges and prosecutors who went through the vetting process unsuccessfuly have registered their law offices” – sources from the Albanian Bar Association tell the ACQJ, who inform also that throughout the country there are 12 thousand licensed lawyers, but only 3 600 of them are active.
From magistrates to lawyers
“We will not become a shelter for those who are expelled by the Vetting process, we want a dignified profession”, – said in 2018, Maks Haxhia, head of the Bar Association, before the adoption of the new Law on Advocacy.
During the discussions on this law, in the Laws Commission in July 2018, there was an initial consensus among the legislators, led by MPs Ulsi Manja and Bashkim Fino, that magistrates excluded from the vetting process should not be accepted among lawyers.
“Obviously, we cannot allow those we were taken out of the courtroom door, to enter through the window,” – Ulsi Manja asserted at that time.
Haxhia, in the discussions of the Commission, changed his position and opposed the proposals of the government deputies, due to the conflict of the relevant provisions with the principles of the practice of the legal profession.
As a result, during the adoption of this law, all parties withdrew from the initial affirmations, and the new law on advocacy no longer provides for such prohibitions.
Now, 4 years later, a large number of former judges and prosecutors excluded from the justice system have received the license to practice the profession of lawyer from this institution.
Following a request for comment by the ACQJ, the Albanian bar Association asserts that the “non-permission to exercise the profession of lawyer” apart from contradicting the right protected by the constitution to exercise a profession, cannot revoke the diploma of jurists.
But who are the magistrates excluded from the ranks of the judiciary who have found shelter near the Bar Association?
Ervin Metalla, the former Tirana Court of Appeal judge, was finally dismissed by the KPA in October 2019, after he had received an undeserved soft loan by executing fictitious contracts. At the time, the judge said that ironically it seemed as if he had set a trap for himself in order to get a soft loan, but distanced himself from being connected to the estate of his brother, Eugen Metalla.
In 2013, he started working at the Court of Appeal in Tirana, while according to the declaration and justification of his wealth in the period 2003-2017, only 4.2% of the family income of 16.7 million ALL was generated as a result of teaching as a professor at the Faculty of Law. In the post-2017 wealth declaration, part of the former judge’s income was generated from his role as an expert in the Magistrates’ School’s continuing education program.
At the beginning of 2020, Metalla registered as a natural person with the NBC, after he started exercising the profession of lawyer, a legal advisor in the capital. According to the data published in the National Business Center, the annual income registered at the Metalla law office amounts to 4,231,234.00 ALL.
Another former judge who appears as a lawyer on the NBC is Artan Broci, a former member of the Supreme Court, who during the period 1995-1997 also worked as an assistant lecturer in the Department of Administrative Law at the Faculty of Law. After his dismissal in 2019 from the KPA, he did not spare the accusations, describing this institution as “the political commissar of the Prime Minister which has to follow political orders”.
Broci reacted at the time by emphasizing that his legal battle would continue until the end, although according to the investigation conducted, the KPK stated that the judge had problems with his properties. He had obtained an apartment in a vacant building in Tirana, as well as examined the issue of the construction company of the building not giving the right to compensation to a group of people. From the public financial statements, it results that in the financial situation of his new legal firm, for 2019 has a total income amounting to 162,825.00 ALL, for 2020, 1,676,185.00 ALL and for 2021 5,599,680.00 ALL, with a total income from his activity as a lawyer for three years of 7,438,690.00 ALL.
Ahmet Jangulli, a former judge of the Administrative Court of Shkodër, dismissed in 2019 after it turned out that he had problems in justifying his wealth, professionalism and clean image, has been practicing the profession of lawyer in Shkodër since 2020. According to the data made public, Jangulli offers lawyers and legal consultancy in various fields. During the research in the public documents in Open Corporates and NBC, we noticed that Jangulli has not yet made public the financial statement of the firm, thus not making public the income.
Artan Lazaj, the former member of the Tirana Court was dismissed by the KPK and then in January 2019, by the KPA (Special Appeal Panel) for false declaration of assets. In 2018, the former judge accused the head of the KPK, Brunilda Bektashi, of serious procedural violations, although his evidence showed problems in the justification of wealth.
In 2019, Lazaj was registered with the NBC as a natural person offering legal consultancy, lawyer and official translations. Meanwhile, according to research on the website of the NBC, we notice that the former member of the Court of Tirana has not declared his annual income.
The number of former magistrates who have opened law firms after their dismissal from the judicial bodies, but after their establishment for years lack declaration of their financial activity is high, among which former judges such as Arben Zefi, Agron Valva, Kostika Çobanaqi, Gjin Gjoni, Entela Prifti, Ramadan Troci, Bujar Hoti and many others.
Roland Jaupaj is one of them. The former President of the Court of Fier, dismissed for non-justification of wealth, turns out to be registered with the NBC as a natural person, who also provides legal services. In 2020, the Special Appeals Panel (KPA) overturned some of the KPK’s findings for the judge, which were related to the sale of an apartment to his parents at a preferential price, but did not overturn the decision to exclude him from the Justice System. From the research on the website of the NBC, it appears that even the former judge Jaupaj has not publicly declared the income generated by the activity of the law office.
Even Bashkim Dedja, the former head of the Constitutional Court, who was dismissed by the decision of the KPA in December 2018, for problems in the justification of wealth, within a month of this decision, registered with the NBC as a law office. On the Open Corporates and NBC websites, the income generated by the former magistrate from his activity as a lawyer has not yet been made public.
The former head of the Tirana Court, Enkeledi Hajro, was dismissed in January 2021 for not justifying the assets of 25,000 euros. Only 2 months later, in March of last year, the former judge started offering consultancy and legal representation as a lawyer, assistance for recruitment for human resources, planning, management and implementation of projects in the field of Justice, etc.
Hysni Demiraj, the former head of the Court of Appeal of Tirana was initially dismissed by the decision of the KPK in February 2019, where in addition to not justifying his wealth during the hearing, he also faced denunciations by citizens and judges of the Appeal for several judicial decisions, which the Commissioner described as “problematic”. Among these decisions was the security measure for the former “January 21” guards. This decision was then left in force also by the KPA on 13.07.2020.
According to the extract released by the NBC, Demiraj registered his Law Office in September 2020, i.e., only a few months after his dismissal. But despite his active status, he has not performed any financial activity, or at least none of it have been declared to the tax authorities.
Unlike the aforementioned judges, the former prosecutor Dritan Rreshka was expelled from the Justice System in July 2019. Although he appealed the decision of the KPK, the Special Appeals Panel chaired by Albana Shtylla, after two days of reassessment, issued the decision to leave in force of the decision of the KPK. “The judicial body came to the conclusion that the subject of the revaluation Dritan Rreshka has made an insufficient declaration for the wealth criterion in the sense of article 61, point 3, of law no. 84/2016”, – was said in the decision published by KPA.
From March 2020, the former prosecutor Rreshka is registered as a natural person at the National Business Center, as he offers legal services to legal and physical individuals, Albanians and foreigners.
According to the data published in the financial statement of the legal services office of the former prosecutor, it turns out that his total income as a natural person for the year 2021 is 9,960,880.00 ALL, a significant amount, when even after the reform in justice, the salary of a district prosecutor reaches an annual average of 2,700,000.00 ALL per year.
Other former prosecutors who turned out to have registered their law offices are Adriatik Cama, who was expelled from the Justice System in 2019, while only a month later he started practicing the profession of lawyer; Artur Selmani, former prosecutor in the General Prosecutor’s Office, was dismissed from the Judiciary after he was considered unfit to continue his duties, following the complaints of the families of several victims who lost their lives from the events of 1997 in Vlora. In November 2019, he registered the law office with the KKB. but after almost 3 years, these two lawyers still have not made public the income generated from this activity.
Shkëlzen Selimi, after his dismissal from the judicial bodies in 2019, founded the law firm “Inter Partners” in 2021, whose activity has brought income during the same year in the amount of 7,495,804.00 ALL.
Guxim Zenelaj, after his dismissal in 2019, continued his activity as a lawyer in the law office “Crown International Legal Office”, an activity that he had started even before the confrontation with the vetting bodies, in 2018. For 2018, this office had an income in the amount of 1,223,325.00 ALL, while for 2019, a loss in the amount of 1,190,688.00 ALL. The declared losses of this legal office continued for the years 2020 and 2021, with a total of ALL 1,543,838.00.
Arjana Fullani, after the interruption of the vetting process, due to the latter’s renunciation of participation in justice institutions, has opened her own legal studio within the year, through which she has achieved financial income in the amount of ALL 2,824,786.00 ALL in three years of declared activity.
Even the former president of the Durrës Court, Joana Qeleshi, after being dismissed from the judiciary, opened her legal office “Qeleshi and Associates”, through which, for the year 2021 alone, she had an income in the amount of ALL 3,133,006.00.
The Vetting process started with problems
Lawyer Jordan Daci told ACQJ that the Justice Reform started with several problems, among which was the lack of a mechanism that would replace dismissed or resigned magistrates.
“The School of Magistrates, despite all the additions that have been made, cannot fill the shortages for years”, – says Daci, according to whom this fact has caused the effect of the reform to fade in the face of the blockage that occurred in some courts. where there is a shortage of judges and prosecutors and where the delays in judgments have reached unusual levels.
“When the implementation of the Justice Reform began, it was thought that a large part of the judges and prosecutors who would leave would resign, but that did not happen”, – says Daci, who shows that the magistrates took advantage of every deadline to work and resigned at the time of exit before the trial.
“If this was foreseen by the Constitutional Court and it was decided not to allow resignation outside the deadline, the effect of the possibility of leaving the Justice itself would be greater”, – Daci underlines, who adds that the position within the System of Justice, although some of the judges were aware of the dismissal, it affects the issuance of decisions without due diligence on their part. “Not to mention that we can think of other options, which are not necessarily in line with the ethics of the magistrate”, – says Daci.
Vojsava Osmanaj is a judge at the Shkodër Court of Appeals, who for almost a year underwent the Vetting process, which she passed successfully. According to her, the justification of wealth was one of the biggest difficulties that judges and prosecutors encountered during the process, also because of the informality that has characterized Albanian society in the economic field.
“We encountered difficulties to convincingly prove with key documents every fact and burden of proof that was assigned to us, taking into account here the informal society to which we belong and the way our state has functioned these years”, – she says, adding that during development of the Justice Reform, judges and prosecutors have become part of two questionnaires drawn up by the Independent Qualification Commission.
“The first questionnaire, carried out on September 9, 2019, included 12 standard questions for all judges and prosecutors, which would pave the way for all further verifications”, – says Osmanaj, who emphasizes that the second questionnaire carried out on May 14, 2020, was built on the basis of 10 questions “which would pave the way for a detailed analysis of all assets, self-declaration forms and relevant issues, as well as the need for further clarification“, – Osmanaj says.
To the question of whether the return of judges and prosecutors to the justice system as lawyers after being excluded from the vetting process shows the fragility of the reform, Osmanaj answers that “the reform falters” at the moment when an honest judge or prosecutor is unjustly removed from the system “and not based on what career he pursues after being excluded from the reform.”
“As long as the Constitution or the package of Reform Laws or other material laws have not prohibited the exercise of this profession by former judges or prosecutors, no one can evaluate or rate it differently”, – concludes Osmanaj.
For lawyer Jordan Daci, despite the problems, the reform will improve the justice system.
“I think the new trends in the Justice System are promising and qualitative“, – says Daci, who underlines the fact that during the implementation of the reform there have been cases of magistrates who stayed in the system, even though they had to leave. “Anyway, I think that overall, it will have a positive effect”, – he concludes.
It’s 2022. It’s been more than five years since the vetting process began, more than 3 years since a large number of judges have been dismissed due to their inability to justify their financial means. A significant number of former judges already practice the profession of lawyer, allowed by the legal provisions agreed between the Bar Association and politicians.
A large number of former judges practice the profession and have not filed any data on their financial activity, and despite reports that SPAK pledged as early as 2020 to verify all judges and prosecutors dismissed by the vetting process, and despite the calls of the Minister of Justice of the time, until today, only sporadic cases have been investigated and brought to trial, while the former judges exercise a function near the judicial system, but now from the other side of the aisle.