Forsaken justice, only 1 convicted on probation for 51 earthquake victims

  • Shqip
  • English
  • To read this article in Albanian click here

    Two years after the tragic November 26 earthquake, which caused 51 casualties, justice seems to have failed for those responsible for the fatal consequences. Of 60 people arrested and charged with offenses from murder to illegal construction, it results that to date only one citizen from Vora has been convicted by the Albanian justice “For illegal construction”. He too was able to escape prison after his sentence was converted to probation.

    Authors: Aldo Mustafa, Ahmet Zani and Albinë Nipolli

    Dorian Greku, 37, lost three dear family members on the fateful night of the November 26 earthquake: mother, father and brother. Asylum seeker in France, upon hearing the tragic news, he abandoned everything he had sacrificed for and set off for Thumana, where his family lived. Unfortunately, Pëllumb Greku, Çelike Greku and Sajmir Greku lost their life under the building rubble.

    Two years after the tragedy, Dorian feels like he has lost again: hit hard by natural disaster, but also by state negligence.

    He was recently forced to sell his car as well, as the road to Thumana cemetery became frequent. Every day, as soon as he missed his lost family, he traveled from Tirana to the place where they rest for eternity.

    “I miss everything, my family, Thumana, since I grew up and became 35 years old in that village. I miss my neighbors, other earthquake victims, who were also my friends. We did not only lose family members, we lost much more,” said Doriani, who has lived in a state-run apartment in Shkoza since the November 26 earthquake.

    Disappointed by the government’s negligence, he says the promises are far from the bitter reality that the victims’ families have to face every day.

    “The state has not helped us with anything. They gave us a social apartment in Shkoza and those few funeral expenses. That was the help. Although a lot was promised by the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, and the mayor, Artur Bushi, the latter did not even pay me a pension for the children, which he promised me. Today I live on 40 thousand new lekë , – Doriani tells INA MEDIA about the abandonment by the state.

    Thumana tragedy, foreshadowed

    For Dorian, the Thumana tragedy was forewarned. He finds it impossible to find peace, as long as there is still no one held responsible for this disaster.

    The earthquake of November 26 caused 51 victims, in Thumanë, Mamurras, Durrës and Tirana and thousands were injured, but justice has failed to find the culprits of this tragedy.

    Although in the voluminous files there is data that prove that the design and building rules have not been respected, that the construction permit has been violated, the columns have been tampered with or the right amount of iron has not been used, still those responsible have not been found.

    Data researched by INA MEDIA shows that out of 60 people arrested by the police, who were initially charged with murder or illegal construction, 48 have ended up in court. But, so far only 1 person has been convicted for the consequences of the tragic earthquake of November 26, also the one with probation.

    The collapse of three buildings in Thumana caused the death of 25 people. Built during the communist regime with voluntary work, residents say that since 2019 they notified the authorities that the building was at risk of demise, but this was never accepted by the local authorities.

    Like many residents of the disaster in Thumanë, Doriani tells Investigative Network Albania that the damage to their apartment had occurred since September 2019.

    “The cracks and holes were covered with putty by my father himself, Pëllumb“, – he confesses.

    This happened after the inspection of the Municipality of Kruja, without an official letter, but was verbally told that these buildings were habitable. He accuses that the perpetrators of this tragedy are known and, if the state had behaved differently, then it could have been avoided.

    “If the state had behaved differently, it would have been normal for this tragedy to have been avoided. But they did nothing for us, neither then, nor two years ago, nor now,” – he said.

    Disappointed, he does not believe there will be justice for the earthquake victims.

    “Justice for those victims will never come. No one has been arrested, not even the municipal employee, who did the evaluation of Thumana biuildings after the September 2019 earthquake. It was all very neglected and justice will never come for this event. It will be left in silence until it is forgotten, or better yet, they have already forgotten it,” he said, disappointed.

    “We as the family should have had access to a transparent justice process. It was not known whether these people were arrested or not!” He concluded.

    Although there have been public accusations about the three collapsed buildings in Thumana, that they were neglected after the September earthquake, according to data from Investigative Network Albania, arrived from the Police, Prosecution and Court of Kruja, it turns out that no person has been arrested in this area for the consequences of the earthquake.

    Specifically, according to the data from the Kruja Prosecutor’s Office, 11 criminal proceedings have been registered, but there is still no name, while these proceedings are mainly for abuse of office, while the Kruja Prosecutor’s Office has not provided any details on these issues.

    The only case that has been sent to court is the demolition of the Thumana school, but there are still no convictions, as the case continues in court.

    According to the decision of the Court of Kruja, “on 25.12.2020 was given the measure of personal security for 5 people for the works carried out in the school “Ramazan Jangozi” , in Thumanë,” which collapsed during the earthquake of November 26, 2019.

    “Currently the case is under trial and there is still no judgment,” said the Kruja Court.

    The persons on trial are engineers, evaluators, administrators and officials of the Municipality of Kruja. The Municipality of Kruja took over the school building, which was closed after the September 21 earthquake, a few days before the November 26 earthquake. The closure was made on the grounds of repairing and strengthening the school structure.

    Durrës, 24 victims, still no culprit

    A villa and 6 buildings collapsed in Durrës, causing 24 victims. In the four-story villa of the Lala family, eight members of this family lost their lives.

    Serjan Mazrreku, then administrator of Administrative Unit no. 6 in the Municipality of Durrës, was among the persons questioned by the investigative groups as a person aware of the situation after the earthquake of September 2019, as well as the placement of the Lala family in that unit.

    Serjan Mazrreku, administrator of Unit no. 6 in the Municipality of Durrës, where the apartment of the Lala family collapsed

     

    “I testified to the prosecutor that the inspectors of the unit in this apartment did not find any damage after the earthquake of September 21, 2019. The area of the former swamp was the most affected plot in this unit, as near the apartment of the Lala family were damaged and collapsed by the earthquake about 7 other buildings. Surprisingly, earlier, in September, there were about 5 buildings in this area, which were damaged and then collapsed, while the building of this family had no serious damage”, – Serjan Mazrreku told Investigative Network Albania.

    Two legalization employees were charged for this apartment, but they got away, with the fact that the technical-legal documentation is required only for constructions over 4 floors, so the blame remained with the Lala family.

    According to the investigation file in the Durrës Prosecutor’s Office, the first floor of the building was built without permission in 1997-1999.

    In the following years, additional floors were added to house the other members of the same family and the building reached four floors, but the foundations in this case were designed for only one floor and the building collapsed due to its heavy weight.

    The Konomi Building, near the former Red Cross, in the neighborhood no. 18, in Durrës, took the lives of 7 people, including the Reçi family.

    The 5-storey building + 1 attic was built only for the family of Perikli Konomi in the years 1994-1996. It was inhabited by the Konomi family and three families who had rented three apartments. Perikli Konomi had obtained a building permit for an additional floor through the Durrës District Council.

    From the measurements of the group of field experts, a difference was found between the project and the implementation of the building, also from the surviving citizen Ajet Meçja, it was claimed that on the first floor, where the Ice Club was located, works were done, removing walls, expanding the restaurant and making the ice factory a part of the parking lot.

    Hotel “Tropical” before the earthquake of November 26, photo taken from Google Maps, May 2016

    According to the investigative file, despite the interventions, the group of experts said that the main reasons that led to the demolition of this building, were the non-compliance with the constructive project during the implementation of the 5-storey building.

    In particular, the insufficient amount of iron reinforcement in the ground floor columns and the additional floor (with building permit) is designed to be built on a structure that was not calculated to withstand the additional vertical loads.

    From the investigations, three engineers were charged for these violations, but from the verifications performed, the three citizens turn out to have died and as a result, the investigations into the causes of the tragedy in this building have been terminated.

    There are no “culprits” for the demolition of the “Tropical” hotel, which took the lives of two Kosovar citizens, brothers Shemsedin and Isah Abazi. The owners of the hotel, Abdulla Osmani and his wife were also seriously injured.

    According to the prosecution file, the building in question was built individually by the investor Abdulla Osmani, initially with a project plan of 4 floors + 1 attic and later in 2006 the attic floor was changed, turning it into a full floor and above the sixth floor as an attic (5 + 1). This is an addition, for which the necessary reinforcements in the structure have not been calculated. This intervention was found to be the cause that led to the collapse of the building.

    Abdulla Osmani, in the capacity of investor and engineer Lefter Shuka were investigated for “Murder by negligence” and “Abuse of duty”, but the case against them was dismissed, because the crime had occurred over 10 years before the event and was statute-barred.

    Not even for the two lives lost under the ruins of the “Mira Mare” hotel was anyone held accountable. According to the investigative file, this hotel had completed the legalization form in 2005, but was legalized only in 2019.

    “The study, design, implementation and testing of the building “Hotel Mira Mare” has not been carried out according to the standard, national technical condition for construction in force in the Republic of Albania at the time of construction, as a result of which the collapse has taken place,” was the conclusion of the group that conducted the technical expertise.

    But, even in this case the execution of the measure was impossible, as the engineer, who had performed the expertise of the stability of the building, had passed away.

    Facsimile of the prosecution file for the demolition of the hotel “Mira Mare”, in Durrës (in Albanian)

    Another 6-storey building collapsed in the earthquake, which took the lives of two people. According to the investigation, it turns out that “the cause that led to the collapse of the building, was the poor quality of construction materials and specifically concrete, which resulted in 50% less than that specified in the project.”

    Facsimile of the prosecution file for the collapse of the 6-storey building in Durrës (in Albanian)

    However, despite this very important fact, even in this case no one was found responsible. There is no responsible for the collapse of the holiday home of the Ministry of Interior, under the ruins of which officer Bajram Hajdarmetaj lost his life.

    The only one who was charged by the prosecution was Kujtim Hasa, head of services in this building, but even in this case the accusation had nothing to do with the cause of the collapse of the building, but Hasa was accused of “Abuse of duty”, as , according to the regulation, he had to organize and control the stay of persons in the respective premises.

    Rubble of the hotel “Vila Palma”

    The collapse of the hotel “Vila Palma” took the life of the citizen Sadik Qato, as his nephew, Klajdi Qato, son of Dëshira and Arben Qato was successfully rescued from the rubble.

    For these tragic events, the police and the prosecution launched investigations into 18 people, where 8 of them were arrested, while 10 others were declared wanted, being caught later. Of the 18 people arrested, 12 of them were on duty engineers at ALUIZNI, 5 builders and 1 designer.

    Two years after the quake, relatives of the victims are still awaiting justice.

    The Durrës Prosecutor’s Office itself says that it has filed charges against 15 of them and is currently awaiting the decision of the Court of First Instance, Durrës.

    “Immediately after the earthquake, the Prosecution of the Judicial District of Durrës started propriu motu criminal proceedings and after a year of intensive investigation, the investigative group in November last year (2020), decided to send for trial the criminal proceedings against 16 defendants, accused for the criminal offenses of “Abuse of duty”, “Murder by negligence”, “Illegal construction”, “Forgery of documents”. The pre-trial judge decided to accept the prosecution’s request to transfer the case for trial, with a single change, dismissal of the case for one of the defendants. Currently, this criminal proceeding is in the trial phase on the merits of the case and we are waiting for the final decision of the Court of First Instance, Durrës”, – said for Investigative Network Albania the head of the Prosecution of the Judicial District, Durrës, Anita Jella.

    Anita Jella, Head of the Prosecution Office of Durrës

    But, at the end of the main trial in the Court of Durrës, on 02.02.2020, decided to terminate the investigation for 5 of them, leading to the trial of 13 of the accused.

    Specifically, the investigation was terminated for Abdulla Osmani, the owner of the “Tropical” hotel, accused of “Murder by negligence”, due to his death; for Artur Terziu, in the capacity of the owner of the restaurant on the first floor of the 6-storey building, accused of “Forgery of documents”, because at the time of the fact, the fact was not provided by law as a criminal offense; for Arben Isaku, in the capacity of the director of ALUIZNI, for the hotel “Vila Palma”, accused of “Abuse of duty”, as the fact was not provided by law as a criminal offense; for Dëfrim Celami, in the capacity of engineer for the 6-storey building, accused of “Abuse of duty”, as it turned out that he did not commit the crime and for Ahmet Doda, in the capacity of director at the Holiday Home of the Ministry of Interior “, Accused of “Abuse of duty”, as no criminal offense has been proven.

    Further in the next decision, on 19.07.2021, the Court of the Judicial District, Durrës has decided to declare not guilty, after reviewing the evidence, the defendants: Artur Çela, Chief Inspector at the Urban Construction Inspectorate of the Municipality of Durrës; Flamur Gjuzi, Director of the ALUIZNI office, Durrës; Helio Huqi, Field Measurement Specialist; Skerdi Bello, Specialist in the Legalization sector at ALUIZNI; Arben Qato, engineer, all accused of “Abuse of duty”.

    Also, Nevjana Isufi, a topographic expert, was acquitted of the charges, accused of “Forgery of documents”; Deshira Qato, investor, accused of “Murder by negligence”; leaving at trial only 6 of the 18 defendants, for whom the court has not yet ruled, specifically for the defendants: Ruzhdi Xheka, Aldo Dakoveli, Klajdi Lame, Albrend Qetka, Artenis Malko and Kujtim Hasa.

    The statement of Vasil Gjoni, according to which Nevjana Isufi falsified the signature ( in Albanian)

    Tirana, a victim, but a record of accusations

    Although there was only one victim in Tirana, the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office filed more charges than the Durrës and Kruja prosecutor’s offices together for the consequences of the earthquake.

    On January 15, 2020, the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office issued a press release stating that it had issued 42 arrest warrants, 31 of which had been executed.

    Among those arrested was the handcuffing of two former mayors, while the prosecution claimed that investigations had uncovered the construction scandal, from the poor quality of materials to changes in projects, as well as the lack of seismological studies. But even in Tirana, the seismic earthquake faded along the way. Out of 42 arrested, 30 of them were sent to court, while for 12 others the criminal offense could not be documented.

    “At the request of the prosecution, 30 people came to court under the status of a person under investigation for various criminal offenses related to the consequences of the earthquake. From these persons, the prosecution addressed the court with a request to terminate the criminal proceedings for two of them and the court has issued a basic decision for only one person “, – explains the Court of Tirana in an official response for Investigative Network Albania.

    The figures were blown out along the way and two years after the earthquake it turns out that only one person has been convicted, who is the owner of a bakery in Vora, while for 27 others there is still no decision from the Court of Tirana.

    “On 17.12.2020, the court decided to find guilty the defendant N. Sh., For the criminal offense of “Illegal construction” with 2 years of imprisonment. Pursuant to Article 59 of the Criminal Code, the Court ordered the suspension of the execution of the imprisonment sentence and the placement of the defendant, Naim Shehi, on probation for a period of 4 years, provided that during the probation period the defendant does not commit any offense”, – says the Court of Tirana in its answer.

    Experts, skeptical of how the investigations went

    Unlike the judiciary, which has not been able to find those responsible for the tragic balance of the November 26 earthquake, experts know their responsibility.

    According to them, not only does this tragedy have actual names, but the state structures are equally guilty.

    “The most unfair part of the consequences of this tragedy is the fact that an investigation was never registered for the responsible officials, who had to ascertain the condition of the buildings of the post-earthquake of September 2019, which further finally collapsed in November of the same year and brought the loss of life of dozens of people. These lives could have been saved in case of state action,” Ledio Braho, a lawyer, told INA MEDIA.

    Lawyer Merita Dakovelli is also pessimistic about the deepening of the investigation and the release of those responsible. According to her, the prosecution body was satisfied only with superficial data and did not go into details in the investigation.

    “If the fast track trial is accepted, it is known that this trial in its entirety has only the acts of the file, so you do not go deeper into investigations, the acts of the file are taken, as they are. I do not think there will be further investigations,” Dakovelli said.

    Gazmend Oketa, a civil engineer, appeals that the same mistake is being repeated and in Durrës it is being “rebuilt” without permission. He accuses that the state, instead of facilitating the procedures, has created bureaucratic and corrupt barriers.

    “These citizens have been forced to rebuild a shelter for their children or parents due to indifference or state bureaucracy. To threaten this category with imprisonment is completely immoral and useless. There are a lot of corrupt constructions under the pretext of reconstruction,” Oketa accuses.

    Gazmend Oketa accuses that even with the reconstruction, things are not being done properly.

    “Unfortunately, in my opinion, the reconstruction process has been used, either selectively or abusively, but, why not, also in a corrupt manner. Suffice it to say, for example, to mention the fact that only for the design process of buildings, which were classified as damaged in the DS4 scale in Durrës, a procurement procedure was done, concentrating everything in one hand and in practical terms, for us who deal with projection, it is impossible for a single company to do a quality job”, – says pessimistically Oketa.

    While the well-known engineer Arben Meçe, whose firm holds a part of the earthquake expertise, raises another concern. According to him, even after that serious disaster that struck our country, the government has not learned and has not taken legal steps to set projection criteria.

    Engineer Meçe raises the alarm that the damaged buildings in Tirana are a “hot potato” and the consequences could be fatal again, if not intervened.

    “At the moment, in Tirana, we are talking about dozens of buildings classified as destroyed by the earthquake, but they have people inside, which means that potentially these buildings are equivalent to those of Thumana. If then we asked why the state left the people in Thumana after the September earthquake, today it is known where those in Tirana are. If today we have this situation in Tirana, equivalent to Thumana and the state does not intervene, it means that the state has not managed to build a methodology on how to manage this post-earthquake situation”, – notes Meçe.

    Engineers even go further, emphasizing that the stagnation of uncontrolled construction continues, being a constant danger to the lives of citizens, especially in constructions that have not yet been legalized.

    “Every material goes through a cycle of fatigue, it has received a relatively large shock, then we have to see them, certify these objects, if they have guarantees for the continuation and coping with a similar earthquake”, – says the expert of a building materials laboratory, Entela Kapllani, referring to illegal constructions that are in the process of legalization.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.