Authorities in Albania to shut down Agon Channel, arrest warrant issued against its Italian owner Francesco Becchetti

Authorities in Albania to shut down Agon Channel, arrest warrant issued against its Italian owner Francesco Becchetti

Tirana, 9 June 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Edison Kurani

The Italian boss of several important companies in Albania and of a TV network has been declared internationally wanted by Albanian authorities. At the same time, his properties in Albania have been frozen, IBNA reports quoting official sources from the Prosecution of Tirana.

This prosecution has also demanded the seizure of another four companies, which are all administered by Francesco Becchetti, his mother Liliana Condomitti and the Italian nationals, Mauro de Renzis and the Albanian Erjona Troplini.

All of these four people are suspected to have been involved in a gigantic money laundering scheme, amounting to several millions of Euros. The charges that have been pressed by the Prosecution are “Forgery of documents committed in more than one occasion” and “Money laundering”.

The Prosecution of Tirana has issued an order to several banks to freeze the shares of the media company “AgonSet” and the energy companies “Energji”, “Cable System”, “400KV” and “Fuqi”.

The Italian Francesco Bechetti is considered as the mastermind of the scheme, where his mother, Liliana Condomitti has also been involved. The Prosecution suggests that through financial maneuvers for the construction of the power plant of Kalivac, Beccheti and his mother have illicitly benefited millions of Euros, which have then invested in the companies managed by them, one of which is Agon Channel TV network. Also, “Energji” company should have paid the state an amount of 770 million ALL in taxes, which have not yet been paid.

Prosecution says that it has shed light upon the money laundering scheme. According to the investigation, “KEG” concessionary company, which had earned the right for the construction of the power plant of Kalivac and which was owned by a company of Francesco Becchetti, had contracted “Energji” company to carry out works, a company which was controlled by Becchetti’s mother, Liliana Condomitti.

A part of the money benefited from the financial maneuvers have been deposited in several banks, says the Prosecution in the file sent to the court.

According to the prosecution, amounts benefited from this money laundering scheme, have been invested by Becchetti for the opening of Agon Channel TV network in Tirana, a project which according to him had a cost of around 50 million Euros. Becchetti opened TV Agon around four years ago and two years ago, Agon Italia, where the entire production of the Italian network is done in Albania.

In both of the channels of this TV network, Becchetti manages to include prominent names of the media world, paying enormous salaries.

Prosecution has also issued an arrest warrant for Erjola Troplini, shareholder at Agon Channel TV. The inquest has revealed that Troplini has carried out suspicious money transfers and her arrest has been demanded for this.

The order given by the Prosecution of Tirana for the seizure of Agon Channel is expected to be executed on Tuesday by police and this can lead to the shutting down of the channel.

The media structure of Agon Channel and Agon Italia are suspected to have been completely funded by “dirty money secured by Becchetti’s financial maneuvers”.

Italian media have also tied Becchetti’s name with activities that aimed at penetrating the market of the management of urban wastes in Albanian by collaborating with his uncle, Manlio Cerroni, suspected of financial fraud with the landfill in the suburb of Rome.

In relation to these developments, former Prosecutor General, Theodhori Sollaku says that these are investigations based on unlawful acts.

According to him, authorities have unjustly attacked a TV network.

“Here we have to do with a hasty action by the Prosecution, where the state attacks Agon Channel without legal bases”, says Mr. Sollaku, lawyer and legal representative in Albania of the Italian businessman, Francesco Becchetti.

Sollaku says that these kinds of destructive investigations must end, while he considers the arrest warrants issued in the recent hours as unlawful.

“Enough with destructive investigations. Today’s orders issued by Prosecution of Tirana are unlawful”, he says.

The former Attorney General says that no criminal offense is identified in the charges that have been raised. “The money brought to Albania has been documented by commercial banks. The prosecution will fail with these accusations. There are no illicit acts”, Sollaku notes.

According to him, the seizure takes place when there’s suspicion about criminal offenses or when it has been proven that these capitals originate from criminal proceedings. If the state can prove this, then it has the right to seize assets.

Sollaku says that this is a scary matter, because “prosecution in collaboration with the court, are creating a new precedent against investors.” He says that this cannot turn into a phenomenon. “I believe that the risk for such cases to be repeated in other businesses is evident, because the decision of the prosecution and the court is a precedent, which puts in danger the future of many businesses”, says Theodhori Sollaku.

The developments in the Agron media group, which includes the Albanian and Italian TV network and the daily newspaper “Agon”, came a few days after a TV investigative program suggested the production of ID cards for the purpose of electoral rigging by exponents of the majority. The program also suggested video images which were commented by the opposition as a scandal ahead of the elections, while the authorities didn’t issue any comment.

Endira Bushati, former head of the National Council of Radio and Television (NCRT) says that this is a pure political attack by the state. “When Agon Channel was shedding light over the scandal of the production of ID cards and electoral rigging, after a two year battle with Digitalb for the application of the media law and after the request to participate in the contest of frequencies for digital networks, the state now “remembers” that it’s been 10 years that the owner launders money”, says Bushati.

Meanwhile, Shkelzen Berisha, son of the former PM, Sali Berisha, who is active with political comments during the election campaign, says that these are extreme measures for the seizure of Agon Channel and the arrest of its owner in the middle of the election campaign, because it was the most critical TV network against the government.

Berisha suggests that these measures have been demanded by PM Rama and that everything was done on purpose.

“In the middle of the election campaign, an independent media which pays its taxes is seized, because another company of the same owner has not paid its taxes, according to the taxation directorate. Never has any media been shut down in Albania for not paying taxes. Today we are witnesses of the installation of a regime that shuts down the media, because companies which are not related to them, have not paid taxes”, says Berisha. /ibna/