Albanian Court Hears False Document Was Used to Jail Beleri

Albanian Court Hears False Document Was Used to Jail Beleri

A court on Thursday heard that the ruling that remanded in custody the Greek minority mayor-elect of Himara – and prevented him from taking his oath of office – was based on an inaccurate certificate.

Albania courts and prosecutors used a document with inaccurate information to justify remanding in custody Fredi Beleri, mayor-elect of Himara in southern Albania, after his arrest for alleged vote buying two days before the May 14 2023 elections, a court heard on Thursday.

The twist adds more confusion to a case that has disrupted relations between Tirana and Athens and has prompted Greece to block Albania's progress on its membership path, claiming that the case highlights Albania's discrimination against its Greek minority.

Beleri has been kept in prison while on trial, charged with attempting to buy four votes in exchange for cash. The decision to keep him behind bars also made it impossible for him to take his oath as mayor following the elections he won. As a result, the defeated candidate from PM Edi Rama's ruling Socialist Party is doing the job.

Beleri's defence claims the police framed him using an infiltrated agent to provoke him, a method they have not used in any other case of alleged vote-buying, a phenomenon in Albania that is perceived as widespread.

The prosecutor in Vlora sought his pretrial detention and the court agreed, arguing that he had a prior penal offence in his certificate, which justified pretrial detention.

"It has been proved that the arrested person poses a danger for society to a such a degree that any other pretrial security arrangement would have been inadequate, so he must me remanded in custody because the acts show he had a prior conviction," the court decision reads. That decision was confirmed in the appeal.

However, it turns out that the certificate of his criminal offence should have shown that he was not convicted of a crime.

Authorities seem at a loss to explain why the system of issuing these certificates worked this way. Following the defence's complaint, prosecutors opened an investigation into Ledion Jonuzaj, an IT expert who retrieved Beleri's certificate, which showed he was inaccurately labelled a convicted felon.

Jonuzaj, however, told the court that he just did a search of Beleri's name in the system provided by the Ministry of Justice and printed the results. As he was placed under investigation, prosecutors ordered him to rerun the search and again print the certificate, which this time showed Beleri as "not convicted".

Aurel Zarka, Vlora's Chief Prosecutor, the office that first charged Beleri, told BIRN they were unable to change the data provided by the system.

Adnan Xholi, the Special Prosecutor in the case against Beleri, didn't respond to BIRN's request for comments. The Minister of Justice, Ulsi Manja, whose ministry handles the system of crime certificates, also did not respond to BIRN's request for comments by the time of publication.

Eugen Gjyzari, Beleri's defence lawyer, told BIRN that the inaccurate certificate was based on the fact that Beleri was convicted years ago for inciting ethnic hate.

However, as a long time has passed since the conviction, he is legally considered rehabilitated. That is proved by the fact that, as part of the documents he filed at the Central Election Commission for his candidacy, he also obtained a certificate showing him "not convicted" of a crime. That certificate was issued from the same authorities three months earlier.

The defence presented the use by the authorities of a certificate with inaccurate information as yet another indication of procedural wrongdoing.

Beleri has insisted that the whole case against him was initiated by the government and that his opposition to lucrative developments on coastal areas in the Municipality of Himara, is the reason behind his arrest. 

Balkan Insight

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