Albania told to drop extradition proceedings against Leyton Orient owner

Albania told to drop extradition proceedings against Leyton Orient owner
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje March 8, 2016

An International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) tribunal has instructed Albania to suspend extradition and criminal proceedings against Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti, the owner of British football club Leyton Orient.

Becchetti faced extradition from the UK after Albanian prosectors issued an arrest warrant in June 2015 over his suspected involvement in a money laundering scheme related to a failed hydropower project in Albania. Becchetti, who also owns the Agon television broadcaster in Albania, denied the accusations.

In a “unanimous and historic order” issued on March 4 in Washington, following an arbitration hearing before the ICSID, the Albanian government was asked to “take all actions necessary to suspend” the extradition proceedings in London against Becchetti and Agon manager Mauro De Renzis, Leyton Orient said in a statement on its website on March 7.

The tribunal also decided that Albania should suspend criminal proceedings against all claimants in the case. Both sides come to an agreement on preservation of their assets which had been seized in Albanian during the arbitration.

In June 2015, the prosecutor's office in Tirana ordered the confiscation of Becchetti’s assets, which included 60% of shares in several companies in Albania controlled by him. Becchetti’s bank accounts were also frozen in Albania, the prosecutor’s office said in June.

Becchetti’s mother Liliana Condomitti and another person, Stefania Grigilon were also named in the case.

Leyton Orient said that the claimants brought the ICSID arbitration for violations of the Albania-Italy bilateral investment treaty, following a number of “ongoing attacks and harassment” against them and their investments, which include two television stations and a hydropower plant.

One claimant, Hydro Srl, is also concurrently involved in an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration arising from Albania’s breaches of its concession agreement for the hydropower plant, the statement said.

The claimants in the ICSID case argued that in response to their assertion of their rights to arbitration, Albania consequently launched a number of “meritless and abusive” tax investigations and criminal proceedings against them and their local investments, seized their Albanian assets and issued arrest warrants against Becchetti and De Renzis seeking their extradition from the UK.

The investigation into Becchetti was launched in 2014. Investigators suspect that between 2007 and 2013 Becchetti ran a money laundering scheme which generated profits of several million euros. One of his Albanian firms currently has debts of some ALL770mn (€5.6mn) in unpaid taxes.

According to Albanian prosecutors, the money laundering scheme was organised by Becchetti in collaboration with Condomitti, with both involved in a concession-contractor relationship in the construction of the Kalivaci hydropower project in Albania, which was never completed.

Becchetti said at the time that the charges were “demonstrably groundless, improperly motivated and unsupported by any evidence.”

He also accused the Albanian authorities of shutting down Agon TV after it broadcast stories critical of the government including an expose of the use of fake identity cards in advance of the June 2015 local elections.