In a break with procedural code, Albania’s Supreme Court dealt a severe blow on Friday to the corruption case against former Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta.
|Ilir Meta | Photo courtesy of Albania MFA|
Meta was charged with corruption after a video was broadcast showing him discussing corrupt deals with another former minister, Dritan Prifti, who was scheduled to testify at Friday’s hearing.
However, the judges refused to hear Prifti’s testimony, instead granting a request from defense attorneys to hear their evidence first, and calling for expert verification of the videotape.
Sources inside the general prosecutor’s office told Balkan Insight that the court’s decision is in “blatant breach of the procedural code, which says that the prosecutor’s witnesses and evidence are presented first.”
Article 359 of Albania’s criminal procedural code says explicitly that the trial starts with “the administration of evidence collected by the prosecutor…and then continues with the evidence presented by the defense.”
According to prosecutors, the judges’ rulings are aimed at preventing prosecution witnesses from testifying before the case is closed.
“That would save Meta even from the court of public opinion,” the source in the prosecutor’s office told Balkan Insight.
Meta has always denied the charges against him, dismissing them as politically motivated. On Friday, he accused the prosecutors of being “controlled” by his accuser, Dritan Prifti.
Transcripts of the video show Meta asking Prifti, the former economy minister, to intervene in a hydropower plant concession tender. Meta mentions a bribe by a businessman of €700,000.
Meta also asks Prifti to hire activists of his own party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI.
The LSI is the junior partner in the government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha. It controls the ministries of economy, foreign affairs and health.
Although it only holds four parliamentary seats, the LSI came out as a kingmaker in the 2009 parliamentary elections, which were narrowly won by Berisha’s right-wing Democratic Party.
Meta is head of the LSI, and at the time of the recording was both deputy prime minister and foreign minister. The tape also shows him boasting about having influenced a Supreme Court trial involving the same hydropower plant.
Meta is overheard saying that he can influence court decisions because he is on good terms with Chief Justice Shpresa Becaj after securing an embassy job for her daughter.
He then asks Prifti to keep the affair quiet, because he is afraid the prosecutor’s office might open an investigation into it.
Becaj has denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that her daughter got the job on her own merits.