The Eftimiadi family estate was caught up in the political and ideological shifts that shook Albania throughout the 20th century. By the early 2000s, a century after the family emigrated to Italy, attempts to reclaim the property were ensnared in corruption and judicial inefficiency.
After discovering that part of the estate had been taken over by Shehu, the foundation’s board — which included a former Italian diplomat and a retired general in Italy’s financial police — opted to cut a deal with him.
The Luca and Marco Eftimiadi Foundation signed a contract with Shehu in 2015, agreeing to accept eight apartments and three hectares of coastline. None of those properties were originally part of the estate, and the foundation agreed to give up any claim to the ancestral land. Petritaj signed the contract on behalf of Shehu.
The deal quickly fell apart.
The foundation had intended to build a small marina that would generate funds for its charitable mission, which included building bridges between Albania and Italy. That plan ground to a halt when the foundation realized the land transfer was based on forged documents, according to Namik Alimuçi, an Albanian businessman who has run a beach bar on the property for 15 years.
“They are all fake and the whole village knows this,” said Alimuçi, who was supposed to work with the foundation on the seafront development.
Valerio Cataldi / TG3
The seafront land near Vlora that Shehu claimed to be gifting to the Eftimiadi Foundation.
The saga of the Eftimiadi family estate is one of thousands of similar stories throughout Albania, which is caught in a web of competing land claims — a legacy of the communists who nationalized property, and a subsequent spree of theft during attempts to return it to private ownership.
Land issues around Vlora are particularly complicated, according to Elona Hodaj, a former director of the Real Estate Registration Office in the city.
“It is a situation created over 25 years,” she said. “There are court decisions that have given the same property once to one party, and once to another party.”
Hodaj lasted less than a month on the job. She is one of eight directors to have resigned since September 2019, each citing “personal reasons” for leaving.
When he swept to power in 2013, Prime Minister Rama pledged to resolve Albania’s land crisis and make sure stolen properties were returned to their rightful owners.
“Albania cannot be the country that the next generation will inherit as a place where robbers and counterfeiters enjoy once and for all the product of their criminal acts,” Rama said in 2015.
His government’s efforts have so far seen little success. Alleged land thieves like Shehu have prospered, while others like the Eftimiadi Foundation and the villagers in Zvërnec, near the Narta lagoon, have been unable to regain their properties.
After failing to negotiate a bureaucratic and legal maze of land claims, Subashi and his fellow villagers are left with an unlikely last resort.
“We have been writing to every prime minister for years,” said Subashi. “We have also written to Edi Rama.”
Shirsho Dasgupta (Miami Herald), Megan Bobrowsky (Miami Herald), and Valerio Cataldi (TG3) contributed reporting.