|Gjin Gjoni, appeals court judge and member of the High Council of Justice, was investigated by HIDAACI, but the case was closed on technical grounds by the Court of Elbasan | Photo by : LSA
Since 2004, judges, like all mid-to-high-level public officials in Albania, have been legally required to annually disclose a full-accounting of their assets.
The High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interests, [HIDAACI] administers those assets declaration disclosures.
BIRN has obtained from HIDAACI, through a freedom of information request, all the annual asset disclosures forms filed by appeals court judges through 2015.
With the help of three experts, BIRN entered the financial data recorded by the judges in each annual disclosure in a database and analyzed the information using a plausibility check, a form of control used by HIDAACI to investigate the wealth of public officials.
The plausibility check compares previous asset disclosures, family disclosures and other financial information to “identify indicators of hidden illegal income” in a politician’s “incoming and outgoing cash and asset flows” according to the Council of Europe’s manual for analyzing the income and assets declarations of public officials.
In other words, does the money a politician claim to take in match the assets on hand and the amount of money spent?
BIRN’s analysis shows that for most appeals court judges in Albania the answer is no: 64 of 81 appeals court judges in Albania, or 79 per cent, had at least one year in their career with an unexplained negative difference between the wealth they acquired and their disclosed financial resources at hand.
These discrepancies are part of a larger pattern. Plausibility checks raised red flags on 131 asset declarations out of 879 filed by appeals court judges from 2004 to 2014.
Of the judges whose plausibility checks signaled inconsistencies in that ten-year period, 16 per cent have four to six problematic annual disclosures, 31 per cent have two to three problematic disclosures and 53 per cent have one disclosure that raised a red flag.
In total, the sum of unjustified money in the declared financial resources from the appeals court judges reaches $2.7 million.
After the data analysis suggested that a large number of the judges’ asset declarations were questionable, BIRN sought an opinion from the Albanian Union of Judges. The head of the union, Gerd Hoxha, declined to comment citing his absence on an international business trip. ‘
The discrepancy between the asset flow in and the asset flow out is not necessarily illegal; however, it is a red flag that would normally warrant a full investigation from HIDAACI.
Unjustified Judicial Wealth
The law on asset declarations legally requires elected officials and members of the public administration to disclose their assets.
HIDAACI is an independent institution created in 2003, tasked with preventing the accumulation of illegal wealth among public officials and the prevention of conflict of interest in public administration.
According to HIDACCI’s 2014 annual report, 4,987 public officials declare periodically their wealth and private interests. The asset disclosure includes the official’s wealth and that of family members, the source of the wealth and his/her financial obligations.
Out of that number of public officials, 387 are judges from the three instances of the Albanian justice system, accounting for 7.8 per cent of the total.
Focusing only on appeals court judges, BIRN received 959 appeals court judge’s annual assets declaration forms dating 2004 to 2014 from HIDAACI through a freedom of information request.
Together with experts, BIRN carried out a thorough plausibility check of 879 of those declarations.
|The percentage of appeals court judges that do not justify their wealth in at least one year of their career, distributed by court. | Graphic by : BIRN
Article number 25 of the law nr. 9049 states that “the plausibility check is carried out for every annual asset declaration in order to verify the accuracy of the disclosed wealth, the accuracy of the financial sources and the availability of financial sources to cover acquired wealth.”
The control process is carried out within a year after the annual asset declarations of officials and related individuals are filed with HIDAACI.
This control is documented in the so-called “yellow form,” where information is generated whether the net income of the period justifies the changes of net assets in the disclosure period.
Expenditures are classified as confidential data in the asset disclosure form. For this reason, HIDACCI uses the family subsistence cost statistic, generated annually by the National Institute of Statistics, INSTAT, in its plausibility check.
If the minimum subsistence cost for a family is added to judge’s disclosures the number of declarations with red flags in the period 2004-2014 jumps to 189 out of 879 or 21.5 per cent of the total. The value of the unjustified wealth also increases.
With the addition of the minimum subsistence, the number of judges that cannot justify their wealth in at least one year jumps from 64 to 68, out of a total of 81 appeals court judges.
|The percentage of judges distributed through the number of declarations with ‚red flags‘ during the last ten years | Graphic by : BIRN
Over the past decade, HIDACCI has filed criminal charges against three appeals court judges whose declarations raised red flags in the plausibility check: Gjin Gjoni, Alaudin Malaj and Petrit Aliaj.
The plausibility check carried out by BIRN, shows that a current member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, has one annual declaration that raises a red flag. If the expenditures for the minimum subsistence are added, Gjoni’s problematic declarations jump to three.
The former head of the Tirana Appeals Court, Alaudin Malaj, has four annual declarations with a red flag and if the subsistence expenditures are added the number jumps to five. The Vlora Appeals Court judge, Petrit Aliaj, has four years of problematic annual declarations in both scenarios.
The courts and the prosecutor’s office have dismissed the charges filed by HIDACCI against these judges by claiming that accusations of hiding their wealth and money laundering are without merit.
Integrity Through Reform
The publication of these data comes as Albania’s political class is fiercely debating a thorough constitutional reform to fight widespread corruption among judicial ranks by radically changing the process of vetting the integrity of judges and prosecutors.
The reform foresees the creation of a number of new institutions to eradicate corruption and political interference in the judicial system.
One key institution expected in the reform is an Independent Qualification Commission– a temporary institution that will operate for nine years after the law’s passage – that will be tasked to thoroughly vet the current troupe of judges and prosecutors.
An independent monitoring mission of international observers will be created as part of the Independent Qualification Commission. The commission will vet judges and prosecutors based on three criteria including the integrity of acquired wealth.
The Showdown on Judicial Reform
The debates on justice reform are now reaching a crescendo.
On Tuesday the ad hoc parliamentary commission created for the reform approved the package of constitutional changes and is expected to send them for a vote on the assembly floor in the coming weeks.
However, the Democratic Party-led opposition did not back the article-by-article vote on the reform in the commission. The opposition has asked for reserved seats for political parties in the new institutions.
The constitutional changes require 94 votes in Albania’s 140 seat single chamber parliament in order to pass – numbers that mandate support from at least some opposition MPs.
Prime Minister, Edi Rama of the ruling Socialist Party and Lulzim Basha the head of Democratic Party, met for hours last Monday but couldn’t agree on the reform draft despite intense international pressure. A meeting on Sunday between Basha and speaker of parliament Ilir Meta also failed to yield a breakthrough……………….
Die Dreistigkeit der Albanischen Mafia Richter, die nicht einmal Gesetze kennen, ist einmalig in der Welt. 80 % der Richter, können nicht ihre Vermögen und Villen erklären, wobei das System vor 15 Jahren gegründet wurde, die Politiker wie Ilir Meta als Vorbild dienten