A judge found Professor Ilir Ciko guilty of criminal defamation after he posted pictures and complained on facebook about Conad allegedly changing the sell by date on products in their store.
Ciko has called the verdict “deeply ugly but not surprising” and questioned its implications for freedom of expression.
The case was presided over by Judge Artan Gjermeni handed down a fine despite Ciko pleading not guilty and arguing that his comments were not intended to damage the image of the company. Ciko will now appeal the verdict but if he is unsuccessful in overturning it, he risks having a criminal record for something that could have been tried as a civil matter if Conad had chosen to do so.
The conflict arose in February this year after Ciko posted an image on Facebook that appeared to show discrepancies between expiry dates and prices of Conad products.
On 2 February, Ciko purchased a packet of mushrooms in a Conad store in Tirana. He observed that the product had an Albanian label stuck over the original Italian label. He peeled it back and saw that the expiry date on the original product had been scratched out. Then, returning to the store, he purchased more of the same product and found the same thing on each of them.
He questioned the fact that the original expiry date had been scratched out and why a new label had been put over the top. The post quickly went viral and he received many comments and messages from people who claimed to have had similar experiences.
In another Facebook post, he said that he had evidence that could point to a “structured practice of importing some food products near or beyond their expiry date, from Italy, for sale in Albania.”
In October 2018, the Albanian parliament adopted an amendment to Law no.9902 on consumer protection. This did not make the news, nor did it get the attention of any local NGOs or the public despite the dire implications.
The amendments substantially reduced the penalties and fines applicable to those found to be in breach of consumer protection laws. The previous penalty had been 2% of the previous year’s total revenue, yet the new law changes it to a fine of just EUR 2,400. Not only is this a significant departure from EU practices (most EU countries apply a fine of 4%), it also does not stand as a deterrent against instances of malpractice and violations of customer rights.
The Professor had said in court that it is the duty of every citizen to raise their voices for cases that affect the consumer. He added that the Consumer Protection Commissioner was lacking in ability to function properly and that the court should intervene to recognise and protect consumer rights.
He claimed that “With this trial, Conad have attempted to distract attention from the problem as well as put pressure on me. I have the evidence and I have said publicly that I will take this to The Hague for infringements on my human rights”.
The Food Trade Company who own Conad deny any wrongdoing and all claims made against them that they tamper with or alter sell by dates on any of their products.