Did the military base of Limion with an area of 39,000 square meters and a strategic position in Saranda, 2 hours away from Corfu, escape the private invasion? According to SPAK findings, the property which bears not simply a state status, has been given a concession in 2020 thus violating the national security and obligations to NATO. Limion base was seized after the lessee party had started working, while the scheme involving Ministry of Defense and other key institution is under investigation. There are no defendants by now. SPAK has concluded the first investigation phase with evidence of the Minister of Defense of that time, Olta Xhaçka, and of the Former Chief of AF, Bardhyl Kollçaku.
Limion Auxiliary Base in Sarandë is one of 5 main points of Albanian Coast, where Naval Force has the dedicated room to carry out operational acts and where means of Coastal Guard are set ready for emergencies at sea.
Established on 1969 and fully structured on 1974, the base has an area of over 39 thousand m². In the assessment of 2014, the base was re-approved as a property of Armed Forces with special status known in military terminology as Property of Armed Forced Deployment Plan. The base remained intact till 2020 when Ministry of Defense and Senior Chiefs of Armed Forces allowed its leasing and inclusion in Saranda Port Development Project (July 2020).
In April 2021, Limion Auxiliary Base became the subject of an investigation by the Special Prosecution.
A few months ago while concluding the first phase of preliminary investigation, SPAK asked to seize Limioni’s base preventive aiming to prevent any possible intervention and construction. The Special Prosecution Office states in the seizure request (with which Faktoje became familiar), that the property, due to its special status and role playing in operational acts of Naval Forces and Coastal Guard, cannot be used by private entities.
“… that availability of this property by making it the subject of the concession agreement approved with DCM No. 515, of 2020, to private entities, while the property forming a part of the Deployment Plan serves to national safety and security, endangers national security and obligations of Albanian state to NATO or other international bodies”, – SPAK argues in its request for preventive seizure.
The Special Court shares the same understanding in relation to national security, by supporting Decision of the Constitutional Court which considers FA properties with special and strategic status.
“…Referring to Constitutional Court Decision, Armed Forces Deployment Plan which refers to concrete legal provisions analyzed by Constitutional Court, Article 12/d of Law No. 64/2014, “On the powers and authorities of the leading and command of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Albania ”, repealed by this court, is an organizational aspect of leading of Armed Forces with a strategic character. From this point of view, properties included in the Deployment Plan are not properties that can be freely treated for leasing as other state properties according to DCM No. 54/2014. They enjoy a special status because of serving to national security of a country, to attaining readiness and operability of units or departments deployed in these properties.”, -The Court states in its Decision.
Furthermore, the Special Court argues, in its decision that seized the military base and stopped the works, the violation of national security with reference to set objectives in the Defense Strategy with DCM of 2019.
“… there are grounded reasons to think that free availability of the property could affect increase of risk on readiness and operability of Naval Forces Command, by posing continuous risks to National interests of Security of the Albanian Republic, in view of Chapter III, of DCM No. 628, dated 25.9.2019, “On approval of Strategic Defense Review document of Republic of Albania”, as long as leasing party/investors can use the property herein.” – The Court argues.
But, what is foreseen by DCM approved in 2019 and containing the Defense Strategy of Albania by 2025?
Chapter III, cited by the Court, set out several objectives pursuant to NATO requirements.
One of them is:
“…attaining readiness level of defense capabilities to perform basic tasks of defense which shall not be reduced under the minimum benchmarking international military standards and acceptable levels or risk.”
Artur Meçollari, an army officer and Former Chief of Naval Forces explains to Faktoje the role played by Naval Force in national and life security.
“Our Naval Force is a dual mission force: Naval Force and Coast Guard. Both these missions have different operational concepts on deployment of means for rapid response and on facing the threats and challenges coming from or through the sea.
Naval Force, as a military structure, is concentrated as the reaction time is usually highly rapid, means of Coast Guard are deployed because threats and risks are not military, but of a different character.
Coast Guard is a law enforcement structure at sea and the main force for research and rescue at sea, i.e., saving people’s life at sea. That’s why Coast Guard equipment are distributed from Shëngjin to Saranda (including Durrës, Vlora and Porto Palermo) left on standby 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to be ready when needed and if any situation arises, the two nearest equipment should reach the destination within 2 hours”, Meçollari said. Therefore, he considers the base of Limion vital.
“Corfu Channel is the region with the most intensive maritime traffic and the closest to a neighbor country. If there is no Naval Force base in Saranda, it would find it impossible to fulfill its Coast Guard mission in Corfu Channel and in Ionian Sea. From a humanitarian point of view and not a legal one, the Coast Guard will not have the necessary capacities for rapid reaction in case of a disaster at sea. This is because the closest base, that of Palermo, with means available to the Naval Force, but especially with the distance from Cape Tillo and Pashaliman, is not able to support Naval Force mission in Ionian Sea, but especially in Corfu Channel”, he explains adding that these were the reasons why Naval Force objected the leasing or even removing the special status it has.
Picture taken from Google Maps, location of Limion military base
One property, two privatization procedures
Naval Force was the responsible sector of AF which could allow leasing of the Auxiliary Base of Limion or its inclusion in Saranda Port Development Project. It looks like legal and moral responsibility turned this sector into the supporting base of SPAK investigations, which in its seizure request (with which Faktoje became familiar), lists the procedures and communications of structures under the Ministry of Defense until their finalization.
6 months of “ping-pong” regarding the approval of the concession agreement
Referring to SPAK investigations, Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, following the award of the winner of the concession in October 2019, being the joint venture of “Kastrati Group” and “Edil-al” SHPK operators for construction of Saranda Tourist Port in January 2020, requested from the Ministry of Defense to state the terms of the agreement.
On 22 January 2020, Naval Force Command and Director of General Staff of the Armed Forces consecutively refused to approve the draft-decision.
“Naval Force Command, with the letter no. 231/1 prot., dated on 22.01.2020, states that does not approve this draft decision because the area reflected by project description and the related scheme does not comply with the area under the administration of Saranda Port as it overlaps with property no. 696 “Saranda Auxiliary Base ”, under the administration of AF and part of the Deployment Plan. Chief of General Staff, with letter no. 462 prot, dated on 22.01.2020, has expressed his disagreement regarding project approval as the latter would also include the property 696 which is part of the Deployment Plan by significantly violating operational capacities and therefore the completion of Naval Force and Coast Guard mission.”, is cited by SPAK in the communication between institutions.
Following the refusal, Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy in May 2020 resent the request related to the draft decision, as argued by SPAK, attaching a detailed map of the area where concession would be extended.
However this time, Ministry of Defense ignored the Naval Force which administers the property in question and asked for the opinion of the Chief of General Staff and of Directorate of Property and Asset Management only.
“Following this letter, Ministry of Defense asks for an opinion (through letter no. 1964/4 prot., dated 18.06.2020, drafted by Directorate of Programming, Standardization and Harmonization of Regulatory Acts) by the Directorate of Property and Asset Management and by the Chief of General Staff only, thus ignoring the Naval Force Command which actually administered the property where the project on the new Tourist Saranda Post would be implemented. Referring to the submitted project, the draft decision also included the property no. 696 “Auxiliary Base” Limion, Sarandë”.
This time, Directorate of Property and Asset Management and the General Staff gave a positive response and therefore approved the concession agreement.
On 11 June 2020, while procedures on draft-decision of concession agreement were being developed, SPAK says that Ministry of Finance and Economy addressed the Ministry of Defense with a request for an official statement on the draft-decision after receiving a unsolicited offer from a joint venture of “Kastrati Group” SHA and “Concord Investment” SHPK operators regarding the lease of properties in Limioni Bay with a symbolic fee of EUR 1 for construction of a tourist project.
Ministry of Defense addressed the Naval Force. The latter expresses its disagreement regarding the draft-decision and explains, in its response, that “There are three properties in Limioni Bay, property no. 696 (part of the deployment plan), property 1171 and property 1172 (out of the deployment plan)”.
One day after this response, Chief of the General Staff readdressed the Naval Force asking for a statement, because according to the letter, it should have been determined if property was part of the Deployment Plan, if its operability would be violated and if it had to be rented.
The Naval Force, in its second answer, gives its consent by requesting preservation as intact of a part of the property.
“To fulfill its objectives and function, the new base needs to be built within an area of 7000-9000 m2, to have a wharf of 130 ml and with the appropriate infrastructure. In principle, The Navel Force agrees to lease the part left outside the area which will be covered by the project of the new Auxiliary Base of Limion…”.
|48. Chief of General Staff of Armed Forces, with letter no. 3099/3 prot. dated on 17.06.2020, replied to the letter of General Directorate of Economy no. 2649/2 prot., dated on 16.6.2020, of the DPSHRA (despite of Naval Force Statement ambiguity regarding agreement or disagreement of the approval to lease properties in Limioni Bay, which was expressly made clear a day later by the Naval Force with letter no. 3192 prot, dated on 18.06.2020) agrees with the request made by Ministry of Finance and Economy on leasing several state properties, located in Limion, Sarande, under the management of Naval Force because leasing of these properties does not affect AF/Naval Force operability as readiness and operability are attained through construction of a new wharf and its supporting infrastructure, according to the required standards by following all legal and administrative acts on force…
From the analysis of the communications, SPAK concludes that General Staff gave its consent to lease Limioni base before administrating Naval Force response.
Criminal liability – But who?
On 7th of April this year Olta Xhaçka, Former Minister of Defense at the time when procedures to lease Auxiliary Base in Limion to private entities were being developed, was interviewed by SPAK for over 1 hour.
When finished, Xhaçka refused to make a press release. A month earlier, on 9th of March 2023, Bardhyl Kollçaku, Former chief of General Staff of Armed Forces was interviewed by SPAK. As media reports, he was questioned about the same issue. Kollçaku also refused to talk in order to enable the investigation to remain secret.
Investigative papers read by Faktoje showed that, in spring this year, several officials and former officials of Ministry of Defense and of Armed Forces have been interviewed about Limioni Base.
In the request to seize property preventives, SPAK talks about several doubtful acts carried out by senior officials of Armed Forces and officials of Ministry of Defense, violating the Law and bylaws regulating the procedure to lease or to grant by concession the property no. 696 known as Limioni “Auxiliary Base”, in Saranda, which is part of the Deployment Plan with Decree of the President of Republic of Albania.
SPAK holds also the Minister of Defense directly accountable.
“Minister of Defense would have to make a proposal to the President of the Republic of Albania in relation to changes of the property included in the Deployment Plan, because such is not just a state property, as set out in Paragraph 2 of DCM no. 54/2014 (according to which state property are buildings, operational areas (not under a building), land, machineries and production lines of state institutions, enterprises, companies and entities holding 100 % state capital (hereinafter referred to as state enterprises) and barren lands), but, a property that is part of the Deployment Plan has operational activity for research-rescue missions or Coast Guard missions which servers to the national Security of a country; such a property ensures preservation, readiness and operability of units or department thereto.”, SPAK argues.
This matter is under investigation and there are still no defendants subject to proceedings being investigated for “Power Abuse”.