By Lindita Çela

Vlora businessman Pëllumb Petritaj, who was sentenced earlier this month for forgery of documents, is suspected of being the centerpiece of a massive forgerification of property and judicial decisions in southern Albania.

The Vlora Prosecutor’s Office has appealed to a series of litigation, where the citizen Pëllumb Petritaj is accused of alienation through forgery of hundreds of hectares of land documents on the Albanian Riviera.

These are properties in Zvërnec, Cold Water, Karaburun and Palas – where the alienated area is estimated at about 500 hectares.

According to the prosecution, the production of counterfeit documents, their certification by state institutions and further sale to third parties is the scheme used by Petritaj in the alienation of properties today owned by politicians, businessmen or even companies that have benefited from Prime Minister’s Government Edi Rama the status of strategic investors in tourism.

Judicial decisions of the alienation files of these properties have been appealed by the Vlora Prosecutor’s Office to the Court of Appeal. By the beginning of this month, the 54-year-old from Vlora, although prosecuted several times, had been successful in his confrontations with justice.

However, his legal victories came to an end on April 3, when the Vlora Court found him guilty of forgery of documents for the illicit benefit of 181.12 hectares of land in the village of Zvërnec, sentenceing him three years in prison.

In a communication with BIRN after the announcement of the decision, defendant Petritaj denied the charges, while accusing the court as corrupt.

“The court decided on what the prosecution demanded and it is understandable that there are other interests here. That’s when it is not giving money, “Petritaj accused.

Petritaj’s lawyer Enkes Hysendhima told BIRN in a telephone conversation that the fact that his client’s name came out on several issues came because he was a representative of a large family owned by many lands.

“Being a representative of the largest family owner in Vlora, the surfaces are usually large and civil conflicts are created. Civil (lawsuit) does not do any and have taught them to penalize, “said Hysendhima.

“The prosecution has been unilateral, very unilateral. The party that has made the criminal report has the forged documents and against them has been criminal charges these days, “he added.

The alienation of 182.12 ha of land in Switzerland

The falsification of an old Ottoman-language document served Pëllumb Petritaj on behalf of the Shehu family to recognize the ownership right over 182.12 ha of land in Zvërnec. Part of this document is the claim for possession of an area of 59,800 m2 in the area called Cold Water in Vlora.

In August 2007, with a proxy representation from the Shehu family, Petritaj handed over to the Regional Property Restitution and Compensation Office in Vlora documents with the object of recognizing, returning and compensating this property.

In the documents submitted, Petritaj claims that the land area of 182 ha was seized by Seit Shehu in 1944.

The property was recognized by the Property Restitution and Compensation Agency in Vlora in June 2008. A month later, Petritaj addresses the Vlora District Court for the recognition of the legal status of the Shehu family property.

The documents BIRN has shows indicate that Judge Erarfur Madhi needed only one session to recognize the property right as the file at the Vlora District Court was filed on June 30 and the decision recognizing the property right was received on 30 July 2008.

“To recognize the right of ownership for a total area of 187.12 ha; to return the total area of 52.1 ha and to recognize the right of compensation for the difference of agricultural land of 49.6 ha and 340 m² of land under the law, “writes in the final decision of the judge Madhi.

In 2010, this property was registered in the name of Ramiz and Kudri Shehu, superimposed on a surface of 24 hectares on the properties known and returned earlier to the descendants of Arshi Dajlan, whose family was persecuted during the communist regime because of owned properties.

At the moment, all legal actions for the Dajlani family are suspended.

The conflict between the Dajlani family and Shehu family was investigated in 2009 by the Vlora District Prosecution Office. In addition to the Dajlani family, complaints about the large area of land returned to the Shehu family have also lodged at the Vlora prosecutor’s office the inhabitants of the Narta area.

But the investigations have been dismissed with the argument that there is no evidence that could charge criminal responsibility to Pëllumb Petritaj, as the falsification of archive documents was not proven.

In October 2011, a group of workers began filing of 52.1 ha of land that the court returned to the Shehu family in Zvërnec. The property, through a contingent sale contract, had passed the former deputy of the Socialist Movement for Integration Shkëlqim Selami – who in December 2016 lost his mandate because he had not stated the problems with the law in the past.

The documents show that Pëllumb Petritaj, on behalf of Ramiz and Kudri Shehu, sells the surface of 54 138 m2 former Selami MP at the price of 9.7 million ALL.

“When I saw the work being done I learned that my property had passed the former MP, who had begun building it there,” remembers 72-year-old Dhurata Dajlani, a family heirloom.

“I have been indicted for carrying out illegal constructions, as the issue was still under trial, but in this case the investigation was closed, as the prosecution argued that the perimeter wall over the height of 50 centimeters was not considered illegal construction,” she added.

Former MP Selami told BIRN that he had bought the land from Petritaj with the desire to build a horse stall – one of his great passions in life but quickly discovered that the property was contested by two families.

“Prior to 2011 I went to mayor Narta and expressed my desire to invest in that area. I wanted to make a horse stall because I’m passionate, I have my horses. I wanted to rent me a non-productive property, “Selam reminded.

According to Selami, after agreeing with the mayor and starting the work, comes citizen Pëllumb Petritaj who says that the family Shehu was the owner of this area, but the latter had not yet issued the certificates of ownership.

Selami says he has agreed to make a contingent contract with Petritaj until the full resolution of legal property issues. He then learned that there was another family claim to the property.

“Since that moment I have been drawn and I have not made any investments. I expect the state to clarify this issue once and I then contact the real owner of the land as I am very interested in developing my project, “Selami said.

“I am passionate about the horses, and what I want to do is a good environment for them,” the former deputy said.

The alienation of significant land area in Zvërnec has also been denounced in the Task Force set up by Prime Minister Edi Rama for the illegal disposal of state property.

In a letter to Tak Forza in 2014, Dhurata Djalani explains all the vicissitudes of her family’s property, which begin after a request made by the Vlora County Property Restitution and Compensation Agency by the citizen Pëllumb Petritaj.

“All my complaints or reports in the prosecutor’s office were closed. I continue to be in court because of overlapping after registering the Shehu family property, “said Dhurata Dajlani in an interview with BIRN.

The issue of alienation of properties in Zvërnec reopened by the Vlora Prosecutor’s Office only in November 2015.

After three years of property transfer inves- tigation, the Prosecution filed criminal responsibility Pëllumb Petritaj. He was also accused of being a former director of the Vlora Property Restitution and Compensation Office, Petro Puleri, former head of the legal sector at the local Property Restitution and Compensation Office and currently Deputy Director of Vlora Mortgage, Klodian Jahaj, as well as a specialist at the local Property Restitution and Compensation Office, Mirjam Isufaj.

The indictment body argues that by all deposited acts, it does not appear that the citizen Seit Shehu has been expropriated or confiscated or confiscated any property by state authorities from 29 November 1944 onwards.

“It is clear that the defendant Pëllumb Petritaj, appearing as a proxy representative of the citizen Ramiz Shehu, had the purpose of finalizing an activity for obtaining and returning by forged documents of state property in favor of the heirs of citizen Seit Shehu , “Reads the request for trial of Vlora Prosecution, which accuses Pellumb Petritaj of having consumed the criminal offense of” forgery of documents “.

On 3 April 2018, the Vlora Court sentenced Petritaj to three years in prison. The court also sentenced prisoners and three employees of the Vlora Property Restitution and Compensation Agency for allegations of falsification of documents and abuse of office.

Retrieving property files in the South

The file of falsification of property in Zvërnec is not Pëllumb Petritaj’s first appearance with justice. From June 2016 until July 2017, he was a person declared wanted by the Vlora prosecutor’s office.

The prosecution initially suspected that Petritaj had a key role in a structured criminal group involved in falsifying ownership of 220 hectares of land in Karaburun, 89 hectares of land in Zvërnec and 33 hectares of land in Palas.

The alienation of each of these properties, according to the Prosecution’s investigation, was raised on the creation and insertion into the Vlora District Court archive of fabricated judicial files and fictitious decisions of three judges – whose firms also resulted in forgeries.

Among counterfeit files results in a decision of late judge Skerdilajd Konomi – killed in 2011 in Vlora with a mafia-type explosive attack, and another judge Qatip Bylykbashi, who turns out to have left Albania early in the year 1990.

Counterfeit court decisions were subsequently used at the Immovable Property Registration Office in Vlora, where the alienation of the ownership of three large land surfaces was certified.

After registration on the mortgage, the properties were subdivided into smaller parcels and sold through multimillion contracts or exchanged with other properties during 2012-2016, where most of the transactions resulted in the name Pëllumb Petritaj.

However, after a year of investigations, the Prosecution broke the number of persons implicated and charges in the trial, excluding businessman Pëllumb Petritaj, formerly chairman of the Republican Party of Vlora and notary Belona Seraj.

After a year, the Vlora Court found the principal responsible for this file Rajmond Mezzin – a 56-year-old Varrmihah professor – and imposed his 18-year prison sentence on forgery of 220 hectares of land in Karaburun and another 89 hectares in Zvërnec. Another defendant, Lefter Gjergji, who was accused of alienating 33 hectares of land in Palas, was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Businessman Petritaj’s lawyer Enkes Hysendhima, who was accused by the Vlora Prosecutor’s Office as one of the protagonists of document forgery, was found guilty of the trial panel. The prosecution had demanded Hysendhima’s sentence to 24 years in prison.

In a material of more than 70 pages, the Vlora Prosecution opposes the First Instance Court’s decision in this district. The prosecution insists on punishment of lawyer Enkes Hysendhima, calling him the key man in creating a criminal scheme of property alienation. According to the indictment, the court has rendered unfounded decisions in the law on the promulgation of the innocent lawyer, and as such it is null and void.

In a BIRN investigation, BIRN discovered that the main beneficiary of property on the Karaburun peninsula was a citizen Artur Shehu – a controversial character of the transition years in Vlora, who lives for two decades in Florida, United States of America.

Through transactions conducted by Pëllumb Petritaj and lawyer Enkes Hysendhima, the property has also been sold to significant amounts to businessmen, politicians or people with criminal records.

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