By Fjori Sinoruka
A once powerful Albanian oil company boss, Rezart Taci, listed as wanted by prosecutors in Albania, has told the media he is ready to face his accusers in his home country.
From his residence in Milan, Italy, he told Tirana-based TV Top Channel about his business activities from the early 2000s to 2013, when his business started a dramatic decline, adding that he was ready to face the courts, if need be.
“I will face Albanian justice but in Albania there is a lobby to attack entrepreneurs, I must say that,” he said.
“But I will come back to face [the courts] … because I miss Albania a lot, because I want to face the hand that creates these situations. For the moment I have … no problems in Italy. I haven’t committed any crime; I’ve lived in Italy for years,” Taci added.
Albania’s Special Prosecution Against Organised Crime and Corruption, SPAK, recently issued an arrest warrant, accusing Taci of laundering 18 million euros. He is accused of collaborating with two Italians suspected of mafia connections.
He has denied the charges and called them “a continuation of persecutions”.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported that as part of the operation, a 90-year-old Italian entrepreneur, Francesco Zummo, previously investigated for helping the mafia, is under house arrest.
The Palermo prosecutor’s office also arrested accountant Fabio Petruzzella, brother of a Palermo magistrate who lives and works in Milan.
Taci denied knowing either of them well. “The person named Fabio Petruzella is an economist who was introduced to me by a good friend of mine of 25 years, Daniele Cestadali, who asked me for help in opening a [bank] account. This is where my role begins and ends. I have no cooperation with an organised criminal structure, no collaboration with the mafia, and I do not know these people,” Taci told Top Channel.
The same day SPAK issued the arrest warrant against Taci, it also announced that it had arrested his “two trusted men”, Artur Balla and Bledar Lilo, charged with “laundering the proceeds of crime” and of belonging to a “structured criminal group” among others.
According to the investigation conducted by the Anti-mafia Directorate in the Palermo Prosecutor’s Office and by SPAK, the money laundering operation extended to Italy, Switzerland and Albania.
According to SPAK, the scheme was run by Zummo and Petruzella in collaboration with a Swiss citizen of Italian origin and Taci.
It has clarified that the banking transactions were carried out by the detainees in a bank in Albania whose name has not been disclosed.
Investigations have revealed that the Albanian collaborators were to receive a certain percentage for the transfers and concealment of the laundered money.
On November 13, BIRN published wiretapped conversations in which Taci said he had involved Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in money transfers to Montenegro, to Prva Bank, which is owned by the President’s brother.
On Wednesday, Djukanovic denied having had any relations with Taci.
“It is a completely fabricated affair. I don’t know who the people are, nor have I had contact with them in any way … this is a complete forgery, but these forgeries have become a kind of practice in political life in Montenegro,” Djukanovic told the media.
The Montenegrin special prosecution for organised crime told BIRN on Thursday that it has “formed a case” and started the pre-investigation into the claims that Djukanovic and his brother were involved in alleged money laundering.
Prva Bank has denied the accusations, claiming that the media were trying to cause damage to the bank and its shareholders.
At his business peak, Taci bought Albanian TV station ALSAT and changed its name to TV Albanian Screen, but years later it was closed down.