This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al
Fatmir Hoxha was one of the first judges who failed the so called vetting process. Being one of the highest ranking judges in the country (Constitutional Court justice), many Albanians (and even some foreigners) would have thought that the decision to impeach judge Hoxha, means that the vetting process has caught a “big fish”. In fact, in this case we’re not dealing with a “fish”. The true fishes could escape the vetting process.
To elaborate on this argument, let us take a look at the decision of the Independent Qualification Commission (otherwise known as the Vetting Commission) regarding judge Hoxha.
Based on this decision, the only asset that Hoxha family has is the apartment in Tirana, bought in 2011. For the purchase of this apartment, judge Hoxha has spent the proceeds of the sale of a previous apartment that he owned in Shkodra, a long-term loan, an amount borrowed from his brother in law and the money saved in the bank.
Judge Hoxha does not even own a car (the old car that he had, he sold it for 200 thousand lek two years ago) or an extra apartment in the city, at the beach or the mountain (in contrast to most of Albanian high ranking officials). He has also been given a positive evaluation by the Vetting Commission morally and professionally. However, the decision that this Commission took to impeach him came as a surprise.
These are the arguments provided by the two members of the commission who voted against judge Hoxha (one of them voted in his favor):
- The amount borrowed from his brother in law (28.500 euros), was declared by judge Hoxha every year in his self assessment form submitted to the Agency for the Declaration of Assets, but he ceased to declare it from the day he paid it off.
- Judge Hoxha’s brother in law did not have the necessary paperwork proving the source of the money that he had lent him. The brother in law has declared that he has not registered at the tax directorate, because at the time he earned these incomes through the sale of used clothes, he did not have the legal obligation to register. However, his brother in law had all the banking statements showing how this money had entered and exited the bank account.
- Judge Hoxha did not have the necessary paperwork to prove the incomes generated from the sale of the furniture of his previous apartment in Shkoder (they were sold in cash and this is how most of people in Albania and the world operate).
- By analyzing his incomes and expenses in 2011 (when the judge purchased his apartment in Tirana), the commission identified a difference of 1.7 million lek and referring to the sale of the apartment in Shkodra and the used furniture, the commission considered them unjustifiable.
- In 2003, judge Hoxha had not declared a bank account of his wife (330 thousand lek), a mistake which he had corrected in 2004 and each following year.
Judging by the arguments provided by the Vetting Commission, it’s clear that in this case we’re not dealing with a “big fish”, but a commission which is very “eager” to catch a “fish” based on small technicalities.
THE APPEAL COMMISSION
Of course, judge Hoxha has appealed the decision taken by the Vetting Commission at the Appeal Commission. The latter may choose to rely solely on the documents administered by the Vetting Commission and take a decision based on small technicalities. But, this commission may also choose to make a check similar to the one made in the US called “background check” (where even the officials’ neighbors are asked about the way he lives).
Such check would require a member of the Appeal Commission to spend only an hour canvassing judge Hoxha’s neighbors in order to discover that judge Hoxha lived a very modest life, which has nothing to do with the life of many Albanian senior officials.
In contrast to many senior officials, judge Hoxha sends his two boys to public schools and not to expensive private schools. He only uses public healthcare not private one, like many other senior officials do. If he remains unemployed, his house would be seized by the bank for failing to pay his mortgage installments.
How do I know these things? I simply happen to live in the same apartment building that the judge does.
When it examines judge Hoxha’s appeal, the Appeal Commission only needs to ask if this judge is morally clean, legally capable and above all, uncorrupt, because this is the very essence of the vetting process. I’m convinced that if the Appeal Commission will focus on the essence of this question (and not on technicalities), it will rule in favour of the judge. Otherwise, if they rely on technicalities, they will not only empty out the Constitutional Court, but all the judicial institutions of this country.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy