By Fatjona Mejdini
An Albanian appeal court judge, a former member of High Council of Justice, was arrested on Thursday in Tirana on suspicion of taking bribes to ensure the release of a man jailed previously for 20 years for murder.
Judge Shkelqim Miri, 46, was under investigation after his ruling on the case before the Tirana appeal court aroused strong suspicions.
After Miri re-categorised a murder, downgrading it to a case only of inflicting severe physical injuries, the man was released from prison.
According to the media, the murder happened in 1997 in the northern town of Burrel. The defendant then fled to the US, but was extradited to Albania in 2012.
After the extradition, the defendant took his case to the Constitutional Court, seeking a change in his conviction. A first-instance court in 2016 jailed him for 20 years. The case then passed to Judge Shkelqim Miri after the man appealed.
Police on Friday said that in collaboration with prosecutors they had found 174,810 euros, 10,149,000 Albanian lek [76,122 euros] and 1,000 US dollars in Miri’s home.
“Investigations are continuing to find out if other persons are implicated in this illegal activity,” the police statement read.
An investigation by BIRN Albania showed that prosecutors have generally hesitated to order searches of the homes of judges, in the few cases where asset investigations into their affairs were conducted.
The investigation revealed that house searches took place only in one out of eight cases of this nature in 2016.
In recent years, Albanian justice institutions have colme under growing pressure to deal with the manifest corruption within their ranks.
In June, a former Supreme Court judge, Majlinda Andrea, was found guilty of bribery. Her husband was also found to have acted as middleman in the affair.
In May 2016, a former prosecutor, Haxhi Giu, was also convicted of corruption, after being caught in the act of taking bribes.
A former judge ikn the town of Saranda, Rasim Doda, is on trial for bribery.
In early November, Albania finally started the long-awaited process of vetting judges and prosecutors for the first time, to evaluate their assets, any possible connection with crime and corruption and their professional performance. The first results of the evaluations will become clear in December.