Fredi Beleri, the candidate of “Together We Win” Coalition, learned that he won the race for becoming the Mayor of Himara, while he was in a cell, behind the bars. He was arrested in the act of active electoral corruption in collaboration, two days before the May 14 local elections. On May 13, the Court of Vlora decided to arrest Beleri and hold him in detention, but the case file was transferred to SPAK for investigation. Verification and consultation with legal experts show the different scenarios for the mandate of Fredi Beleri, who is accused by the prosecutor’s office of an electoral crime.
Fredi Beleri, the candidate of the right-wing coalition “Together We Win” (Bashkë Fitojmë) for the municipality of Himara, was arrested in the act by Vlora Police, together with other persons, two days before the local elections of May 14, according to the police press release, which refers to Dionisos Alfred Beleri by his initials only. He is accused of offering citizens sums of money in return for their votes.
Beleri, who is part of the Greek minority in Himara, was sentenced to prison by the Court of Vlora on charges of “active corruption in elections”. According to the police press release, the investigation was registered on May 8th. Part of the court’s decision was also the transfer of the investigation file to the Special Prosecutor’s Office, SPAK.
SPAK starts its investigations
Faktoje checked with the Special Prosecutor’s Office regarding the registration of this file and received an official response from SPAK.
The Special Prosecutor’s Office against Corruption and Organized Crime, on the basis of the case file received from the Judicial District of Vlora for jurisdiction purposes, registered the criminal proceedings against the citizen Dhionisios Alfred Belerion on 17.05.2023 following his alleged criminal offense of “active corruption in elections “, provided by article 328 of the Criminal Code.
While in his cell in detention pending trial on May 14, Fredi Beleri won the race for mayor of Himara by a narrow margin of 19 votes against his Socialist Party rival Jorgo Goro.
But what will the future hold for Alfred Beleri? Can he exercise his duties as a mayor while he is being investigated for an election crime? Faktoje checked what the obstacles and legal options would apply in this case.
Fredi Beleri’s mandate
The State Commissioner for Elections, Ilirjan Celibashi, when asked about the mayor’s mandate won by Beleri, who is behind bars, stated that these are two separate facts are not related to one-another, at least until now.
“He is a winning candidate. If there are no contestations and the result is confirmed, he is considered the elected candidate to run the municipality. His legal and criminal situation has nothing to do with the electoral process, at least so far. If there are new developments, we will address them accordingly.”
— Ilirjan Celibashi, May 15
Until the publication of this article, on May 17, the Socialist Party has not contested the election results for Himara, according to the information that the CEC gave to Faktoje.
What does the Albanian legislation provide for Beleri case
The Constitution of Albania stipulates that everyone is considered innocent as long as guilt is not proven by a final court decision.
This is reinforced in the Code of Criminal Procedure which states that any doubt about the charge shall be evaluated in favor of the defendant and that it is the court that can give a verdict of guilt when the accused is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
As for the decriminalization law, which prohibits people with criminal records to run for elections, it provides that in order to prohibit someone from running for office, the person must have been punished by a final court decision.
Afrim Krasniqi, who has been following the decriminalization process since its launch in 2016, does not see Himara’s case as similar to previous cases of removal of mandates due to this law.
“He is elected. He must first receive the mandate, and after that, then depending on the court’s decision, the validity of his mandate is reviewed.”
— Afrim Krasniqi, researcher
Let’s also take into consideration the decision No. 2 dated 03.22.2014 of the United Colleges of the Constitutional Court. With a unified decision, they determined that for a decision to be called “final” in the criminal procedural legislation of Albania, it is necessary that either the High Court issueing the decision, or the losing party files no appeal within the legal deadlines.
How mayors are mandated
Based on the results of the elections on May 14, it is expected that the administrative procedure for obtaining the mandate for Fredi Beleri takes place.
According to the law on local self-government, the mandate of the mayor is confirmed by the District Court within 20 days of the announcement of the result, based on Article 45 of the Constitution, and the validity of the mandate is announced at the first meeting of the relevant municipal council, where the mayor takes the oath according to the law.
If the municipal council does not meet within 30 days from the date of the announcement of the election results by the Central Election Commission, the prefect organizes the swearing-in ceremony of the mayor.
According to this scenario, Fredi Beleri, who is currently in custody, must take the oath within the legal deadline.
When a mayor is dismissed
The Law on Local Self-Government determines when a mayor can be dismissed. A mayor is, for instance, dismissed by decision of the Council of Ministers when he or she is convicted by a final court decision for committing a criminal offense.
So, pursuant to law no. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government”, Article 62 letter “b” Alfred Beleri can be dismissed by the Council of Ministers only after he takes office and only if the High Court finds him guilty.
Can the Council of Ministers dismiss Fredi Beleri after the latter takes office?
Afrim Krasniqi explains that the government does not have this power as long as there is no final decision from the court.
Similarly, the decision of the Council of Ministers is not final, but must be confirmed by the Constitutional Court. We had the case of the last elections, where the Council of Ministers dismissed the mayor of Vau i Dejes and the Constitutional Court overturned the decision of the Council of Ministers.” – says Afrim Krasniqi for Faktoje.
For these reasons, Krasniqi foresees a long process, if the investigation continues. Meanwhile, Fredi Beleri shall exercise his mandate, be it by being present or absent.
The reactions of the parties and the pressure from Greece
The arrest of the minority candidate Fredi Beleri led to the “engagement” of the Greek state, which asked the Albanian government for clarification on this act and since then, they have been regularly reacting through their supporting statements and actions for Beleri.
The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on the day of the arrest of Alfred Beleri, announced through the social network Facebook that he informed the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen about the arrest of Fredi Beleri and that Albania must understand that Greece and the European Union will not accept violations of the rule of law and protection of human rights.
The reaction of the Prime Minister of Greece after the arrest of Alfred Beleri
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece
After the announcement by the Police about Fredi Beleri’s arrest in flagrante delicto, the Greek Foreign Ministry reacted on May 12, announcing that the Greek Ambassador to Albania went to Vlora to meet the arrested person. Earlier he also met the foreign minister of Albania and informed the ambassadors of the EU member states in Albania about the case of Fredi Beleri’s arrest.
After the decision of the Court of Vlora on May 13 on arresting Beleri and holding him in detention, the Greek Foreign Ministry called it a “scandal, in case there is no irrefutable evidence against him”. Greece accompanied its reaction with a warning.
“Such a decision will also have consequences in the European Union’s relations with Albania, since respect for European rules and the principles of the rule of law is a prerequisite for this European path. Decisions like today’s, which violate these principles, show that in practice Albania is not following the European path.”
— Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 13
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania
In response to the first reaction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Greece, the Foreign Minister of Albania, Olta Xhaçka, urged her counterpart in Athens to allow the Albanian judiciary to do its work without external pressure and divisive messages.
“It’s good to keep Brussels informed, but we also have to wait for the facts to emerge.”
— Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania, May 12
After the Court’s decision, Foreign Minister Olta Xhaçka responded to the reaction of her Greek counterpart, stating that “she does not understand how Greece can oppose a court decision when the evidence is so strong.”
Prime Minister Rama’s warning
The evening before Fredi Beler’s arrest, in a television interview, Prime Minister Rama directly accused him of vote-buying, mentioning the names of those he called Beleri’s collaborators.
Less than 24 hours later, Beleri was arrested.
In his first reaction, Prime Minister Rama called Beleri’s arrest before the elections a trial for justice.
While at the media conference held after the publication of most of the election results for the 61 new mayors, Prime Minister Rama connected Greece’s reactions to the holding of elections there. Rama also said that no one can oppose the decisions of Albanian justice.
Edi Rama, Prime Minister
“ Great regret, because the minority is not a ground for anyone to use for electoral profit, neither in Albania nor in Greece. I never raise questions before justice expresses itself, nor do I exercise pressure on justice. Therefore, I do not and never shall allow anyone else to do so. ”
After the Court of Vlora claiming the case is not part of its jurisdiction, the case is with the Special Anticorruption Prosecution, SPAK, which is expected to continue investigating the case and send it to the court.