Gary Kokalari: Letter to Edi Rama
| E Diel, 07.07.2013, 06:41 PM |

July 6, 2013

Edi Rama

Chairman

Socialist Party of Albania

Tirana, Albania

Zoti Rama,

On behalf of Albanians for a Democratic Albania, I would like to congratulate you on your landslide victory.

It is clear your leadership and a well-run campaign were critical factors in your overwhelming defeat of the Berisha regime.   But another important factor was the widespread discontent among Albanians who were fed up with Sali Berisha and his corrupt, authoritarian rule.

In 2005, I wrote to Sali Berisha just after he regained power.   I told him that he had an historic opportunity to right many of Albania's wrongs and move Albania forward as a democracy.  He squandered that opportunity and made Albania even more corrupt than it was under the Nano government.  He also moved to aggressively dismantle key pillars of democracy such as freedom of the press, and with his manipulation of the courts he made a mockery of the concept of rule of law.

Now you have been given the enormous responsibility of putting Albania back on its rightful path as a democracy toward integration with the European Union.  Obviously, there are many important problems for you to focus on, not the least of which is the Albanian economy which suffers from extremely high unemployment.  But on this occasion I would like to offer several suggestions as you prepare to assume the position of Prime Minister of a new Albanian government:

1. After eight years of corrupt practices  and mismanagement by the Berisha regime, your government is faced with a massive array of problems, but perhaps your most important priority will be to attack what is at the core of all that is wrong with Albania:  the absence of a judiciary that enforces the rule of law. There must be a complete overhaul of Albania's judicial system so that there is a truly independent judiciary empowered to enforce the rule of law, not manipulate it as was the case with past governments.  Until now, senior government officials who committed crimes have thumbed their noses at the legal system knowing they could bribe their way out of criminal prosecution by paying off the best judges money could buy.   No one should be above the law andanyone and everyone who has broken the law must be subject to due process of law - even the Prime Minister.  This should apply to anyone who has committed a crime including members of past governments and any members of your government who may be indicted for criminal activity.  If you are serious about tackling this problem, you have a unique individual human resource to call upon in Albania.  If you elect to use this resource, it will signal your government's sincerity about addressing this important issue.  Albania cannot take its place among legitimate democracies without adherence to the rule of law.

2.Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental pillars of democracy, but the independence of media outlets to criticize the government was seriously compromised by the Berisha regime.  Berisha was not the only political figure to undermine a free press.   In fact, I have found my own attempts to express my opinions in Albania's media censored by governments led by both the Socialist and Democratic Parties.  I encourage you to work toward building the foundation for a truly free and open media so that Albania's journalists can criticize government leaders without fear of reprisal.   For Albania to have a valid democracy, you should follow this course even at the risk of one day becoming the target of media criticism yourself.

3. With respect to the use of lobbyists, frankly, it's somewhat pathetic that these consultants, who are relatively obscure to the American public, have taken on larger than life roles in Albania.  The Republic of Albania has paid enormous fees to Washington lobbying firms while receiving little, if anything, in return.  The services of these firms should have been used for the ultimate benefit of the people of Albania.   Your government should determine if government funds paid to the Podesta Group or Patton Boggs were in any way misappropriated for use by Berisha's campaign or to advance Berisha's own personal agenda. For instance, was Donald Rumsfeld paid a fee for his visit to Albania, and if so, were government funds used for this purpose?   If so, Berisha should be prosecuted for misappropriation of government funds.  It should also be determined if Patton Boggs and Podesta Group have any liability to the Albanian government or if they have violated U.S. statutes.  I would be happy to provide whatever assistance I can to help with this matter.   With respect to your intention to work with Tony Blair, on the surface it sounds like this may be a productive relationship due to his stature on the world stage.  This assumes his fees are within reason and, unlike Berisha, you are focused on using his influence to advance the interests of the people of Albania, not those of your party. Furthermore, it is unlikely Tony Blair has the answer to all of Albania's problems.  For instance, there are professional, prestigious international consulting firms and academic institutions that have verifiable track records in helping developing countries implement comprehensive plans for economic development, infrastructure development and the development of specific industries, such as tourism.  Albania's leaders have made feeble attempts to use such consultants in the past, and they usually resorted to working with charlatans posing as experts.  As Mayor of Tirana, you implemented programs that greatly improved the appearance and infrastructure of Tirana, and I hope you will use your past experience as a paradigm for improving Albania.

4. In my opinion, the Albpetrol scandal was a pre-meditated attempt to defraud Albania of one of its largest state owned assets.   As I suspected, Vetro Energy appears to have been little more than a phantom company, and if you look, you will find that Vetro doesn't even have a functioning web sitewww.vetroenergy.com .   Yet, Vetro Energy was selected to lead the "Vetro Silk Road consortium" that was controlled by Rezart Taci, a Berisha crony, and Mathew Roszak, who was charged with insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission.   I was responsible for exposing the fact that American Chartered Bank never issued the $85 million Euro guarantee that was required to be posted by Vetro Silk Road under the terms of the tender.  If I could uncover these inconsistencies with just my access to the internet and a few telephone calls, then Patton Boggs and senior Albanian officials should have also been able to see through this scheme, especially since I provided ample warnings to them well before the decision was made to award the tender to Vetro Silk Road.   If Patton Boggs was working for the Republic of Albania, why did they ignore my warnings and why did they decide to award Albpetrol to a "consortium" that now looks like it was led by a phantom company with little in the way of financial resources?  What was it that made Patton Boggs declare the American Chartered Bank "guarantee" as valid when, in fact, it never existed?  Supposedly, an investigation has commenced in Albania to get to the bottom of this fraud; however, the prosecutor's office has not contacted me to discuss this matter.  Therefore, since I uncovered this fraud, without my input the integrity of this "investigation" seems suspect.   There must be an aggressive investigation of this matter that pursues all who conspired to strip this state owned asset from Albanians, even if it means stretching across borders to determine why a fraudulent bank guarantee was used in this attempted grand theft of Albpetrol.  I stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary to prosecute this case.

5.     21 and 26 represent two symbolic numbers to Albanians.   January 21 is the date that four unarmed protesters were murdered in cold blood.  Albanians need to know who ordered these executions, and you now have the power to find the answer to this question.  26 represents the victims of Gerdec and, more than five years later, those who were charged with wrong doing walk the streets as free men while the families of the victims are still waiting for justice to be served.  Furthermore, others who should have been investigated for their roles in Gerdec, like Fatmir Mediu and Shkelzen Berisha, have evaded prosecution.  You should now push for the vigorous prosecution of those responsible for this mass murder so that there can be closure for all Albanians, especially those who lost loved ones in this tragedy.  And all of those who have already been convicted must be sentenced and begin serving their terms - immediately!   Furthermore, you should press for the extradition of General Luan Hoxha.

 

6.     The AEY scandal could not have occurred without the cooperation of senior Albanian government officials, and I have recently received information that further implicates Shkelzen Berisha.  Obviously, this transaction required the approval of Fatmir Mediu and Illi Pinanari, yet more than five years after this fraud was perpetrated against the U.S. government, not one Albanian has been investigated for this crime.  This is despite the fact that four Americans were indicted, convicted and are currently serving prison sentences for their roles in AEY.   I remind you that there were also transfer payments from AEY to MEICO through a Cyprus-based company controlled by Henri Thomet, the notorious arms dealer, and there is evidence that the payments were used in part to compensate Albanian government officials.  AEY's co-conspirators in Albania must answer for this crime, and I urge you to support the prosecution of this matter.   Unfortunately, several U.S. government officials were eager to cover up this scandal because of their concerns about having their own incompetence and improprieties exposed.  The U.S. government should now be ready for this cooperation, especially since AEY caught the attention of Secretary John Kerry when he served in the U.S. Senate.  However, if for any reason there is any resistance, please let me know, and I will do whatever is necessary to see that those in the U.S. government who attempt to block this matter are exposed and dealt with accordingly.  Further, Kosta Trebicka's "accidental" death is still the subject of debate in Albania, and there should be closure to this case, especially for his family.   Kosta's remains should be exhumed and examined by an experienced forensic pathologist.  There are several renowned pathologists in the U.S. who specialize in investigating cases like this, and I would be happy to provide guidance with this matter.

7. All tenders for the privatization of Albanian state owned assets must be fully transparent and advised by highly qualified consultants with relevant expertise and verifiable track records, not like the incompetent clowns that were hired by past governments because they could be easily manipulated.  From this point on, there will be no excuse for Albanians to be subjected to any more New World Telecoms, Albtelecoms, ARMOS or Albpetrols.

8. As you are aware, I was instrumental in uncovering the biased agreements in Albania's telecom sector which have subjected Albanians - and those making calls to Albania - to what are among the highest telephone calling rates in the world.  Albania's telecommunications landscape must be overhauled to bring it in line with European standards.  As I suggested to Berisha in 2005, the International Telecommunications Union should be invited by your government to conduct a comprehensive study of Albania's telecom system.  I now offer the same advice to you.

9. Heretofore, Albanian leaders have functioned as servants to American government leaders.   Berisha and Nano bent over backward to accommodate American demands, not necessarily because their cooperation helped Albania, but because it enabled them to curry favor with American leaders.   With regard to the latest example of this behavior, I see no benefit in Albania taking in terrorists just because other countries rejected this request from the U.S.  America is greatly admired and respected by Albanians, and Albanians certainly can count themselves among the best friends in the world to the U.S.; therefore, Albania must strive to be a strategic partner with the U.S., not a strategic pawn.

10. Based on reports in Albania's media, Ambassador Arvizu has been fired and is being replaced by Donald Lu.  If true, the timing of this announcement is very troubling due to Lu's close relationship with Frank Wisner. Lu, who is currently DCM at the U.S. Embassy in India, was a protégé of Wisner when he served as Ambassador to India.  The presence in Albania of Bay Fang of Podesta Group when the story about Arvizu's termination first surfaced is also troubling.  Therefore, if Lu does succeed Arvizu as U.S. Ambassador to Albania,  it must be determined if Patton Boggs or the Podesta Group played any role in this intrigue as this would constitute a national security concern for both the Albanian and American governments.  You should be aware that I have been in communication with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and I have requested that Lu be questioned about this matter if he is formally nominated to be the next Ambassador to Albania.  I suggest that your government also ask the U.S. Senate to address this matter during Lu's confirmation.  As for Ambassador Arvizu's tenure, I cannot say that I agreed with all of his actions, but he was 100% on target for challenging Berisha's heavy handed handling of the Central Election Committee, and he should be commended for his stance.

11. With respect to EU membership, in the past, Albanian government leaders have focused too much on the goal and not enough on the means to the end, in other words, they put the cart before the horse.   It's time to focus on the means, like fighting corruption and enforcing the rule of law.   Then, the goal of European integration will follow as a natural progression.

12. Many are declaring the recent elections the best Albania has ever had.  That may be true, but bragging about this would be somewhat analogous to boasting about being tallest midget in a room full of midgets.  The fact that the CEC issue was unresolved on the date of the election is absurd.  There were other methods by which the Berisha government tried to improperly influence the vote, such as having senior level officials pressuring subordinates to vote for his party.  Then there is the issue of buying votes, and it appears that both the Berisha campaign and your coalition share guilt for this infraction.   There is still much work to be done to assure that Albania conducts free and fair elections going forward, and the time to implement reforms is now, not a few weeks before the next round of elections.   It is very possible that if there had not been such a wide margin of victory that was beyond dispute, this election cycle may not have been viewed as favorably as has been the case.

13. Albanians who were persecuted under communism have viewed your party with suspicion because of the SP's roots in the Communist Party.  As a person whose family name has become synonymous with persecution, I can sympathize with their feelings. It's time to exorcise Albania's communist ghosts and heal the wounds that were so unfairly inflicted upon those who were persecuted.  I urge you to take the lead in addressing their grievances once and for all, particularly as it relates to compensation for their pain and suffering and their property rights.

As President Obama said last Sunday in his speech before students at the University of Cape Town, "History tells us that true progress is only possible where governments exist to serve their people, and not the other way around."

You are now at a fork in the road to Albania's future.   You can travel down the same path chosen by Berisha and serve yourself and your friends, and there may be those in your coalition who would like you to take this road.  Or you can grasp the great opportunity that has been presented to you to serve the people of Albania and go down in history as the man who placed the country firmly on the path of integration with Europe and helped Albania embrace true democratic standards.  The ball is in your court.

Please know that ADA stands ready to assist you in any way to help Albania move forward as a democracy.

Good luck in your new role as Prime Minister and with the challenges that lie ahead.

Respectfully,

Gary Q. Kokalari



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