Albania court convicts fugitive ex-spy chief

November 22, 2012 - 3:34 PM

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — An Albanian court convicted the country's fugitive former intelligence chief Thursday of murder for the 1995 death of a suspect who was illegally detained for an alleged plot to murder Macedonia's president.

The court, which tried Ilir Kumbaro in absentia, also sentenced him to 15 years in prison. The victim, businessman Remzi Hoxha, an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia, was abducted by the secret police 17 years ago along with two other suspects for allegedly planning to kill then-Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov during a visit to Albania. The court said the three suspects were held illegally and tortured during questioning.

Kumbaro traveled to Britain in 1996 under a false identity, claiming to be a refugee from Kosovo. He has been missing for a year, after skipping an extradition hearing in London. Hoxha was never found and is presumed to have died in custody.

During the trial, the court heard that Hoxha, and fellow suspects Avdyl Loshaj and Ziso Kristopulli, were taken to a secret police facility in the Lezhe district 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital, Tirana. They were never formally charged of the alleged plot against Gligorov in neighboring Macedonia, and Loshaj and Kristopulli were released after being held for a week.

The victim's son, Ardian Hoxha, said he would appeal the verdict, arguing that Albania had not done enough to bring the former spy chief to justice.

"The justice system has killed our father for a second time," he said. "Victims of crimes are not protected here."

Two former state security officers also faced lesser charges which were dropped by the court Thursday.

Kumbaro had headed the police's intelligence division in the capital, Tirana, for three years until 1995, and traveled to Britain the following year.

According to London police, Kumbaro was granted political asylum in Britain under the false name Shaqa Shatri and was granted a British passport, before he was eventually discovered and sought for extradition by Albanian authorities.

He has been missing since failing to appear for the extradition hearing in London on Dec. 1.

Former Macedonian President Gligorov, who died in January aged 94, was seriously injured in a car bombing in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, in 1995. No one has been convicted of the attack, which was apparently not related to the alleged plot in Albania.