Are Albanian authorities selling out protected witnesses?

Are Albanian authorities selling out protected witnesses?

Tirana, 19 August 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Edison Kurani

A hot political debate has been sparked in Albania, in relation to the fate of protected witnesses. Accusations and counteraccusations come from the government and opposition for selling out witnesses who have been placed under protection by the justice system.

Because many of the serious crimes have been difficult to be convicted with sufficient evidence, Albanian authorities have applied in some cases the status of protected witness.

This includes members of criminal gangs who have been given the status of repented by confessing crimes and their details. After this, they have been declared witnesses under protection.

According to the law, these persons are given a special treatment and even new identities, a home, a job, sufficient incomes and an anonymous location.

But to what extent are protected witnesses in Albania being defended?

Former minister of Interior, current opposition MP, Flamur Noka, says that witnesses are being left on the street and being threatened by gangs which they have betrayed by collaborating with the justice system.

Ministry of Interior, on the other hand, declares that no agreement with protected witnesses has been violated and that they have all been treated based on the laws in power.

The case of one witness seems to be a delicate one.

Witness Arben Kicja witnessed for the trial against Gang of Lushnja. This person gave precious information to police which led to the materials that made up the file that went to court and which led to the conviction of a large number of people who were involved in serious crimes.

Gang of Lushnja operated in Central Albania from 1996 until 2000 and was one of the most notorious ones in the country. There have been many reports on the media filled with stories that were in the limits of border, while heads of people were displayed in the streets of Lushnja as a sign of challenge.

Some murders and other serious crimes were part of an intensive file that prosecution sent to the court more than 15 years ago, but the process for the conviction of this band continued endlessly.

Arben Kicja is considered to be a key witness, who has helped in convicting the notorious Gang of Lushnja and of the leader of this gang, Aldo Bare (photo), accused of inhumane crimes.

But today, this collaborator of justice seems to have been thrown on the street, as he was abandoned by the government’s authorities. Kicja says that he’s now obliged to come out and speak in public, in order to seek help for the safety of his family.

For the main force of the opposition, the Democratic Party, “the government’s abandonment of  protected witnesses is an open positioning alongside crime”.

According to DP, “leaving witnesses on the street is the same as leaving them in the hands of criminals”.

Former minister of Interior, Flamur Noka says that what’s happening today is very serious. According to him, “the government is throwing protected witnesses on the street and is defending criminal gangs”.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party says that it will examine such cases in detail and will offer absolute security for the citizens who will collaborate with justice “as soon as Albanians trust us with the leadership of the country”.

But what is the truth behind Kicja’s case?

Ministry of Interior says that this witness lost his status, because he violated the deal that he had with the Albanian state, intentionally violating more than once the rules of the agreement.

“In compliance with the law, this protected witness can no longer hold this status”, Ministry of Interior says.

However, the removal of the status of a protected witness by justice is made by neither the government, nor by the Ministry of Interior, but by the respective state agency. Nonetheless, it’s known that the members of this agency are representatives of this ministry and State Police which depends on this ministry, but the agency also includes judges and prosecutors of serious crimes. /ibna/