Baze, Taci & ARMO
10 November 2009
Gary Kokalari është aktivist i diasporës shqiptare. Ndonëse opinioni i tij është në anglisht, duke iu kërkuar ndjesë atyre që nuk e flasin këtë gjuhë, ne po e botojmë këtë shkrim duke patur prasysh që ai përbënë një këndvështrim të veçantë si¸ësht¸e ai i një amerikano-shqiptari. Tribuna Shqipatre
The news of the savage attack on newspaper editor Mero Baze by Rezart Taci and his „bodyguards“ marked a sad day in the history of Albania’s democracy. This is because this heinous act was a direct assault on the most fundamental principal of democracy – freedom of speech. Although it’s a positive development that Taci has been arrested, it is easy to have doubts that he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law when one considers his ties to the Berisha family and Berisha’s past attempts to undermine other investigations, like those of his capos Lulzim Basha and Fatmir Mediu.
But there could be a silver lining to this cloud. With the arrest of Taci – which would not have occurred without the massive international pressure placed on Sali Berisha – the opportunity now exists for the prosecutor to re-open the book on the ARMO deal and Taci’s dealings with the Berisha family. However, if there is any hope of accomplishing this objective the US and EU must continue to apply pressure on the Albanian government to avoid any predictable attempts by Berisha to try to bury the whole affair under a rug. It is encouraging that Ambassador Withers* spoke in a highly critical manner about this vulgar act during his conference with Albanian journalists that included Mero Baze, but the Ambassador should know by now that in Albania issues like this often end up sinking into the sand unless there is continuing focus on the problem by American and European interests.
Below are several messages I distributed in 2008 about ARMO. Patton Boggs, a well known Washington law firm, advised the Albanian government with respect to the ARMO privatization. When the original tender process for ARMO was concluded, as many will recall, Jude Kearney, an attorney with Patton Boggs, appeared in an interview in Tirana that was televised on Voice of America in which he declared that the bidding for ARMO was transparent. At that time Refinery Associates of Texas, a relatively obscure American company, was announced as the successful bidder. Yet somehow, between the time of Mr. Kearney’s talk of transparency and the closing of the deal, it appears ARMO ended up under the control of Rezart Taci. Based on what just happened to Mero Baze, in my opinion, Taci looks to be just another Deligjorji type thug who takes orders from Sali Berisha. I find it more than an odd coincidence that Milhal Deligjori and Rezart Taci are both clients of Argita Berisha’s law firm.**
Taci’s attack on Baze now raises numerous questions. Why hasn’t there been an outcry over ARMO landing in Taci’s hands? How much was actually paid for ARMO and what was the source of financing? In addition to the cost of the acquisition, the winning bidder was supposed to invest an additional $250 million to improve ARMO’s operations. Has Taci made any of the required investments? I asked many of these questions at the time the ARMO deal was done, but to my knowledge they remain unanswered. In my opinion, the whole ARMO tender process should be investigated, and if there were any improprieties or if Taci has failed to live up to the terms of the agreement, then ARMO should be ripped from his hands and re-tendered. But this time there should be a truly transparent tender process that avoids any possible conflicts of interest with Berisha family members or the Meta/Prifti mafia. Speaking of Dritan Prifti, what is behind his efforts to get the tax collector off of Taci’s back? Do Prifti and Ilir Meta expect anything from Taci for this „accommodation?“ How have Meta and Prifti financed their exorbitant lifestyles? As I have offered in the past, I would be more than happy to offer my services gratis to provide consultation on these matters.
The previous attempts by friends of Berisha to censor Mero Baze and other journalists, including one from The New York Times, were all designed to stop criticism of the Berisha government through various forms of intimidation. Unfortunately, members of the media have complicity in this regard because many have remained silent in the face of these attempts to prevent open criticism of Berisha and his friends. Hopefully, the attack on Mero will serve as a wake up call in Albania so that more journalists will be willing to stand up and express their true opinions without fear of retribution from the government.
If the Berisha government has allowed the likes of Rezart Taci to grab assets of the state, then helps him to avoid paying taxes and then attempts to physically silence any of his critics it has a closer resemblance to a mafia enterprise than a democratic government working for the people. If the international community and the prosecutor’s office fail to give Taci’s actions the full scrutiny they deserve, then they will share responsibility for allowing Albania to take a disturbing step backward in time.
I remind everyone that Kosta Trebicka served as the whistle blower on the illegal AEY arms deal (as reported in a front page article in The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/
That being said, you should be aware that I have forwarded information regarding former
Fatmir Mediu: Friends and partner of drug boss: Gazmend Mahmutaj
Defense Minister Mediu and Gazmend Mahmutaj to USG officials at relevant agencies. Mahmutaj was arrested in Italy in 1998, and it was reported in Albania that Mediu was also arrested while traveling with him at that time. It is alleged that Mahmutaj was traveling under an alias as part of Mediu’s entourage and that Mediu may have assisted Mahmutaj with this subterfuge. Mahmutaj was reputed to have been wanted on charges related to drug and/or human trafficking at that time. Mahmutaj was subsequently convicted and is serving a term in an Italian jail, and this was confirmed by a major American newspaper. Apparently, Mediu was either acquitted or plea bargained, but you should be able to confirm this yourself. Kassem Mahumutaj, the brother of Gazmend, was appointed head of the Berat branch of Albania’s Republican Party, the political party for which Fatmir Mediu serves as Chairman, and one would have to stretch the imagination to believe this is just a coincidence. Furthermore, when Mediu became Defense Minister, he appointed Kassem Mahmutaj as Director of the largest ammunition depot in Albania which fed ammunition into the Gerdec demil facility (the site of the tragic explosion on March 15, 2008 that resulted in the death of 27 people and injured hundreds of others) and also believed to have supplied a portion of the AEY contracts. AEY is now under investigation by USG and Congressional committees for possible violations of statues related to arms transfers and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Mediu and Sali Berisha have been implicated in the AEY deal as reported in The New York Times ( http://www.nytimes.
As for the reason behind the abduction and torture, local media have alleged that Hoxha was witness to a conversation in Macedonia between then President Sali Berisha and former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, in which they agreed to terms for smuggling oil during the 1992-1995 Bosnia war. Berisha has declined to comment on the allegations; however, in 2005 he admitted „tolerating“ the smuggling trade between Albania and Montenegro on the basis the trade was necessary for humanitarian reasons to relieve Montenegro and Kosova of the hardships of the UN embargo. In reality, this illicit oil trade was conducted to evade the embargo for profit and ultimately, to support Serb military operations. The source of the oil was Greece and it was transited through Albania into Kosova and beyond via truck; however, there may have even been some form of rudimentary pipeline network at border points. Mediu was also rumored to be involved in this oil smuggling business as was Azem Hajdari, a member of Berisha’s Democratic Party who was gunned down in front of Berisha’s Democratic Party headquarters.
As an aside, it was well known in Albania that the Top Channel TV station was one of Berisha’s harshest critics, and he used any and all means to attempt to silence this Albanian media outlet. Then, last year, Berisha strong-armed Top Channel by having the tax authorities threaten them with closure for non-payment of taxes, and Top Channel was not given the any opportunity question the claims of the tax authorities. This was a successful effort by Berisha to block free speech because Top Channel immediately changed its tune. In my opinion, anyone who now assists Berisha, directly or indirectly, to take control of the Top Channel media group should be seen as a participant in a scheme to further suppress free speech in Albania. Another example of this form of blatantly anti-democratic, dictatorial behavior occurred last November when then Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu sent goons to confiscate the video equipment of a New York Times reporter.
As a precaution, please be advised that this message has been blind copied to DOJ and relevant members of Congress who are investigating the AEY arms deal with Albania. This is because I believe those investigating this matter should be made aware of any parties who may be advising the Albanian government on these issues in any way, even if there is no suspicion of wrong doing by such parties. This is due to my belief that Sali Berisha and co-conspirators, which may include his family members and other Albanian government officials, are operating what is in reality a vast criminal conspiracy. Up until the revelation of the AEY deal, certain USG agencies have been willing to look the other way as a result of Albania’s cooperation with other matters, but now the Berisha government may have crossed a line if they facilitated illegal transfers of arms to USG, provided sub-standard ammunition to DOD and/or diverted millions of dollars in payments to a straw company in Cyprus. If proven, these crimes would constitute abuse of DOD procurement programs and American tax payers.
According to an AP report about a UN report released last Thursday about crime in the Balkans ( http://ap.google.
If possible, it would be appreciated if you could respond to this message as well a my email messages to you of May 26 and May 30, 2008.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Gary Q. Kokalari
My May 28, 2008 message:
FYI – Below is my letter to Patton Boggs, the Washington law firm that served as advisor to the Albanian government for the privatization of ARMO, Albania’s state-owned oil refining company. Also, this link contains info on Refinery Associates of Texas, the winning bidder, which is reported to have completed several supply contracts with DOD http://www.gasandoil.
Kasëm Mahmutaj und Gazmend Mahmutaj, Direktor des Militär Kombinates, wegen Drogen Schmuggel in Italien festgenommen
Balkansurfer @ 11:10 am Edit This
Beide festgenommenen haben wohl die Mailand Drogen Schiene nach der Festnahme von H.Hoscha und Shabani übernommten, weil Beide verwandt mit dem Politiker undEx-Verteidigungs Minister Fatmir Mediu RP Partei sind. Beide sind auch Chef Organisatoren im Italienischen und Internationalem Frauen Handel.
International bekannt als Drogen Bosse und entsprechend auch verurteilt wegen Frauen Handel und als Anführer von Prostitution Ringen. Kasëm Mahmutaj und Gazmend Mahmutaj, sind die Inhaber der verantwortliche Firma Albademil sh.p.k, für die Munition Entsorgung! Diese Leute gehören zui den Top Verbrechern, welche u.a. mit neuen Namen und Pässen der Bundesdruckerei versehen waren und ebenso direkt zu der Skrapar Bande von Ilir Meta.
Sie wurden schon 1998 im Raum Mailand verhaftet und verurteilt wegen Drogen und Frauenhandels. Sie erhielten damals 10 Jahre Haft und kamen erst vor kurzem frei.
Taci muss eine Million LEK Geldstrafe zahlen, für Umwelt Verschmutzung was Nichts ist.