By Besar Likmeta
The head of the Republican Guard, his driver and an IT expert from the premier’s office have been placed under house arrest as part of the probe into a deadly protest in January. Republican Guard Head Ndrea Prendi was arrested on suspicion of murder.
In a press conference late on Monday, General Prosecutor Ina Rama announced that her office had ordered the arrests.
The protests on January 21, 2011 turned into a riot when several hundred opposition marchers attacked the police barricade set up to protect the Prime Minister’s office, using sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails.
Police responded with tear gas, water cannons and later with live ammunition fire, leaving four protestors dead and dozens wounded.
Prosecutor Rama explained that ballistics tests carried out in the laboratories of the FBI show that one of the bullets found in the body of one of the murdered protestors had come from the weapon of the Republican Guard head, Ndrea Prendi.
“To avoid the discovery of the truth and benefitting from his official position, Prendi changed the barrel of his gun with that of another Republican Guard member who was also under investigation, his driver Margarit Kume,” Rama said.
“It’s proven beyond any doubt that Prendi shot 11 times into the crowd during the protest, and one of the bullets was found in the body of one of the victims, Faik Myrtaj,” Rama added.
Apart from Prendi, prosecutors ordered the arrest of his driver Kume, and of the head of the IT department of the prime minister’s office, Armando Kasaj.
“Examinations carried out in FBI laboratories have proven beyond any doubt that the server, where footage from the security cameras in the prime minister’s office was stored, was copied to external drivers and deleted after the protest,” the general prosecutor said.
Another Republican Guard officer, Agim Llupo, has been in prison since February 14, 2011, accused of the murder of another protestor during the rally.
Based on the nature of the crimes and the flight risk of the suspects, prosecutors asked the Tirana District Court to keep the three suspects imprisoned. However, Judge Shkelqim Mustafaj, who reviewed the arrest warrants, ordered house arrest for Prendi, Kume and Kasaj.
Albania’s procedural and criminal code state clearly that for persons suspected of murder, judges must order imprisonment at least until the trial ends.
General Prosecutor Rama said that they believed that judge’s ruling was not in consideration of the evidence and her office will appeal it.
Responding to the arrests, Prime Minister Sali Berisha relieved the head of the Republican Guard from duty, while lashing out at the general prosecutor for ordering his arrest.
One year after the deadly riots, Berisha still considers the event to be a coup d’état orchestrated by the general prosecutor, the president, the secret service head, the opposition and four journalists.
“The prime minister considers the general prosecutor to be part of plan to overthrow the government on January 21, 2011,” Berisha’s office said in a statement on Monday.
In an interview on local broadcaster Vizion Plus on Friday, Berisha said that after the general prosecutor leaves office, he will carry out his own investigation and arrest her and President Bamir Topi.
Prosecutors are still investigating the murders, the organisers of the protest and the violent demonstrators that attacked the police, as well as government officials that are suspected of destroying evidence of the deaths.
General Prosecutor Rama explained that prosecutors had asked the state police, which are controlled by Berisha, to conduct the probe into the organisers of the protest, but the police said they had found no evidence.
However, based on evidence collected by the General Prosecutor’s Office, Rama asked parliament on Monday to strip three opposition Socialist MPs of their immunity.
Rama said that there is reasonable evidence to suggest that the three MPs, Tom Doshi, Besnik Bare and Tualant Balla, might have committed the crime of “organisation and participation in an illegal protest.”
“To proceed further in our investigation we asked parliament this morning to lift their immunity,” she said.