Retrial of CEZ Energy corruption case may further polarize Albanian political scene

Tirana, Oct 24 (Tirana Echo)  – A possible retrial of the CEZ-DIA affair, which exposed one of the biggest political corruption scandals in Albania involving Czech energy giant CEZ and a smaller Albanian sub-contractor DIA headed by Kastriot Ismailaj, may be the next scandal to shake the country’s highly polarized political stage.

The news comes as Ismailaj, former CEO of Debt International Advisory (DIA) currently under arrest on money laundering and fraud charges, has asked the Court to re-open the case, saying he has more than 100 new pieces of evidence which could overturn change the course of events.

The CEZ-DIA affair was first exposed by in 2015, after the Albanian government took CEZ to an international arbitrage court in Vienna. The legal office representing Albania, Clifford Chance, brought forward details that Ismailaj had won the debt collection contract with CEZ after promising to ensure political support for CEZ by making hefty payments to local leading politicians.

According to former CEZ head Joseph Hejsek, DIA’s Ismailaj was a close ally of former Speaker of Parliament and current President of Albania Ilir Meta. According to allegations in court, DIA had received more than 4,5 million Euros from CEZ for a fake debt collecting report, money which may have been used to bribe Albanian politicians.

Referring to Hejsek’s testimony, former prime minister Sali Berisha accused his former ally Ilir Meta of negotiating on behalf of Mr. Ismailaj who was later arrested under money laundering and fraud charges.

The case was also politically used by Edi Rama’s socialists to undermine Meta’s political capital. However, a copy of the contract later revealed by Albanian media, confirmed that DIA signed the contract with CEZ in 2010, time when Mr. Berisha was Prime Minister and Mr. Meta Foreign Minister, casting away any doubts of Meta’s decisive involvement.

The request of Mr. Ismailaj for a retrial based on new evidence, however, raises doubts over a new political battle coming up in the tiny Balkan corrupt country, as the CEZ-DIA case re-surfaces only days after former interior minister and PM Rama’s ally, Saimir Tahiri is under pressure from the prosecutor on drug trafficking allegations. Several ruling socialists have hinted at a political which-hunt, motivated by adversaries of Mr. Rama, seeking to bring his government down.

As the court was about to deliver a verdict on Ismailaj today, the DIA chief asked for a trial, promising of more than 100 new pieces of evidence. The prosecutor had initially asked for 15 years in prison for Mr. Ismailaj. Since 2015, more than 40 court sessions have taken place, in what is seen to be a potentially explosive corruption affair exposing involvement of high level politicians in Albania.

In 2014, CEZ AS, the Czech Republic’s largest power producer, agreed with the Albanian government to settle a dispute over the revocation of its distribution license in the country last year. Under the agreement, CEZ will receive a compensation of 95.5 million Euros which will be paid in annual installments until 2018.

Albania is under huge pressure from the United States and the European Union to press ahead with a milestone reform of its heavily corrupted justice system. Corruption and impunity have paralyzed the country’s EU accession talks, with the European Commission conditioning any further talks on tangible implementation of justice reform and an effective war on drug trafficking.

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