An Albanian appeals court judge has been arrested on suspicion of accepting a bribe to overturn the conviction of a man for murder and allowing him to walk free on a lesser charge.
The judge, Shkëlqim Miri, who formerly sat on the High Council of Justice, was arrested at his home in Tirana on the evening of November 10, following a year-long investigation by the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes. The charges relate to the case of Gentian Doda who was convicted of murder for the killing of two people in the town of Burrel in 1997. Before being sentenced Doda fled to the United States, but was extradited back to Albania in 2012.
Last year he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the double murder. On appeal, his case was heard by Shkëlqim Miri, who reduced the charge from murder to “inflicting severe physical injuries” resulting in Doda’s release from prison.The investigation into Doda’s suspected bribery of Miri culminated with a search of the judge’s house during which police found 174,810 euros; 10,149,000 Albanian lek [76,122 euros]; and $1,000 in cash.
According to a police statement, “investigations are continuing to find out if other persons are implicated in this illegal activity.”
Miri’s arrest comes amid a crackdown on judicial corruption in Albania spurred by the former communist country’s bid to join the European Union. Albania consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries in Europe and since acquiring candidate status with the EU in 2014 it has faced increasing pressure to clean up its judiciary which is widely perceived to operate on a pay-to-play basis by citizens. In July 2016 the Albanian parliament unanimously approved a vetting law to be put in place to look into the assets and possible organised crime connections of the countries 800 judges.
The law, which entered into force in January, established a commission and an appeals chamber to investigate the judges. The process is being overseen by the International Monitoring Operation, a European Commission body staffed by international lawyers. At the end of the process the Commission will decide whether individual judges should be confirmed in their duties, suspended for a year and obliged to complete a training program, or dismissed from office.