Influence of the OSF: Albania's Case
At a time when Alexander Soros has announced his intention to concentrate the Open Society's activities in the Balkans, Ukraine and Moldavia, Grégor Puppinck reveals how the Soros family's Open Society has managed to extend its power in Albania, and through it, to European institutions.
Historically, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) have been particularly active and influential in Central Europe. Albania is an example of this strategy of investment and influence. This small country has just 2.7 million inhabitants, with an extremely low GDP per capita of €6,000 a year. It is also said to be the country "most affected by administrative corruption, the highest in the region, with 57% of citizens being asked for bribes at least occasionally and 47% actually taking part in corrupt transactions", according to Euractiv. The country is a hub for drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering... It is also a major base for the OSF.
Since 2013, the country has been governed by socialist Edi Rama, a close associate of George and Alexander Soros. Soros and Edi Rama see each other regularly and call themselves "brothers." Between 1992 and 2020, George and Alexander Soros' Open Society Foundations invested over $131 million in Albania, supporting Mr. Rama's rise to power and then his government. OSF's influence in Albania is therefore considerable, to the extent that Ilir Meta, former President of Albania, accused George Soros of trying to capture the state.
After Mr. Rama's election as Prime Minister, one of the OSF's main operations was to promote the reform of Albania's justice system. According to Andi Dobrushi, Executive Director of OSF Albania, "OSF Albania has been the main funder of the entire reform process". OSF has also acted in collaboration with the US Democratic administration, via USAID, and with the European Union. USAID contributed $60 million between 2000 and 2015 to Albania's justice sector, with OSF helping to allocate these sums. Several US senators have expressed concern about this collaboration, which they believe is aimed at strengthening the government's power over the justice system.
The justice reform includes a reorganization of the judicial appointment system and an anti-corruption selection mechanism. The opposition has denounced this reform as aimed at enabling the government to take control of the judiciary. The role of the OSF in this reform was particularly denounced.
It was against this backdrop that, in 2019, the Albanian government was to appoint three candidates to the post of judge at the ECHR. The Government's choice was Sokol Berberi, Marjana Semini and Darian Pavli. Berberi and Pavli are former OSF employees and players in the justice reform process, as is Artur Metani, Chairman of the national commission that drew up the short-list. Metani is also the brother of socialist minister Eglantina Gjermeni, and advisor to the Prime Minister.
The local press deplored the fact that these three candidates had not been subjected to the anti-corruption procedure, contrary to what the government would have implied, as Mr Berberi had left the judiciary while Mr Pavli had never been a magistrate.
In the end, it was Mr. Pavli who was elected to the ECHR by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Born in 1975 in Vlora, Albania, Darian Pavli is an alumnus of Central European University in Budapest, the university founded and funded by George Soros. He has worked for Human Rights Watch (also funded by OSF), as well as for Open Society between 2003 and 2017, notably in New York. He is an American citizen. His work involved strategic litigation with the aim of producing political effect through jurisprudence. Darian Pavli is a cousin of Prime Minister Rama.
In 2015, he became an advisor to the Albanian Parliament's special parliamentary committee on justice reform, then returned to OSF, as program director for Albania. He also works with the Council of Europe and the European Union on the reform of the Albanian justice system. Mr. Pavli has thus had a typical career as an Open Society lawyer.
He has never had any experience as a judge and presents himself as a lawyer. Albanian law requires 15 years' experience as a judge, law professor or lawyer to be eligible for appointment as a judge at the ECHR. This raises a serious question as to whether Mr. Pavli claims to be a senior attorney. Not only does he never specify which bar association he belongs to, or the year in which he was admitted, but he is also unknown to the major American bar associations such as New York and Washington. As for the Albanian Bar Association, it strangely refuses to clarify this point on the grounds that it concerns Mr. Pavli's private life. Another oddity is that in legal cases in which he has been involved, such as the El-Masri case, Mr. Pavli does not act as a lawyer, but is represented by an attorney. A member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had raised this question, but it was never forwarded to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and thus remains unanswered to this day.
Once appointed to the ECHR, Mr. Pavli judged cases challenging the conformity of Albania's judicial reform with the European Convention, thereby placing himself in a clear conflict of interest on several occasions. Part of the Albanian press has denounced this conflict of interest. This is all the more remarkable given that the subject matter of these judgments is highly political and strongly contested by the opposition.
As for Mr. Sokol Berberi, who has also worked with the OSF, he was reportedly dismissed by the Council of Europe because of his relationship with Agron Xhafaj, an international drug trafficker. He is also the brother-in-law of Fatmir Xhafaj, Rama's interior minister who resigned in 2018, "less than a week after a major police operation against organized crime and drug trafficking". This did not prevent the Albanian government from appointing Mr. Berberi as an ad hoc judge at the ECHR, i.e., a substitute judge, as well as to the prestigious and influential Venice Commission: Europe's highest authority on constitutional law... which was seized, among other things, with the reform of the judiciary in Albania.
This is just one example of the OSF's influence in a poor, corrupt country like Albania.
This situation shows just how difficult it is to make a pan-European institution, made up in part of such countries, work. What is true of Albania is also true of other European countries. A senior Council of Europe official recently told me: "You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find suitable candidates for the ECHR in certain countries. This difficulty is understandable, but difficult to accept when it affects the composition of Europe's highest court.
Article first published in French for Valeurs Actuelles.