Andrzej Izdebski, the notorious arms dealer at the center of a scandal involving medical ventilator tenders in Poland, died suddenly in Tirana at the age of 71 of a heart attack, leaving behind a viral wave of speculation that his death may have been staged.
By Michal Kokot and Vladimir Karaj - BIRN
Andrzej Izdebski did not answer repeated knocks on the door of his apartment in Tirana at noon on June 20.
Outside the rented apartment, on the second floor of one of the Soviet-built buildings in the center of the capital known as the Dawn Palaces, Ylli Zyla – a senior armed forces officer and former head of the Intelligence Service – stood anxiously. of the Army, RAIN.
Together with the owner of the apartment, Zyla tried to open the door with a copy of the key, but it was locked from the inside and the tenant's key was left in the lock. Worried about his Polish friend, Zyla called the fire department and the police. A few minutes after their arrival, the administrator of the building, Tomorr Baruti, and one of the firefighters climbed the stairs to the balcony of the apartment closed with windows.
"We just removed the mosquito net from the window," Baruti said. "I entered from one side, while the fireman entered from the other side," he added.
Gunpowder and the fireman found Izdebski dead, lying on the bed in the bedroom.
"There was blood on the mattress, on both of his arms," ??he recalled.
Police reported the death in a brief press release the same day. Izdebski was mistakenly identified in the communique with the initials AH and as 73 years old.
When the death was learned in Poland a month later, the communique's errors and the victim's dark past as an arms dealer blacklisted by the United Nations raised suspicions. For more, the businessman was under investigation in his country, for at least 8 million euros in unpaid obligations from a contract with the Polish government to supply hospitals with breathing apparatus for patients with COVID-19. Speculation of a faked death to avoid unpaid debts gripped tabloids in Poland.
However, in Tirana the police and the prosecution insist that the death was due to natural causes.
"The main suspicion is that he died of a heart attack," said Arens Çela, head of the Tirana Prosecutor's Office, who added that 20 similar cases are registered every month in the capital. Çela emphasized that in order to call the case closed, the Prosecutor's Office is waiting for a final analysis from the Institute of Forensic Medicine.
Contacted by phone, Colonel Ylli Zyla refused to comment on the death of Andrzej Izdebski and the relationship with the deceased.
"I'm a soldier, I can't talk," he said.
Who is Izdebski?
The name of Andrzej Izdebski, who during the time of communism in Poland had worked for the secret services, is not mentioned for the first time in Albania.
In 2011, the Pole opened two businesses in Tirana - the company Unimesko, which had as its object the arms trade, and a company named 'Wind Sun Water Initiative', with the object of the energy sector, and partners, among others, were Liljana Zylë, the wife of Ylli Zyla. Both companies were founded at the same address in the "Matriks" buildings near the Court of Tirana at the end of January 2011.
The company where Liljana Zyla was a partner brought a storm of accusations in the media from the opposition Socialist Party. Socialists accused the former head of SHIU and the Ministry of Defense of being involved in the illegal trade of arms and ammunition. Zyla resigned from SHIU, but in the resignation statement he described the accusations in the media as "immoral and unfounded attacks".
Two years later, in 2014, when the socialists came to power, the Ministry of Defense dismissed Zyla from the post of head of the Military Police and sued him in the prosecutor's office accused of illegal surveillance of the opposition. But the charges never went to court. In contrast, Zyla managed to win a court case against the Ministry of Defense, which was forced to return his colonel's uniform. He is at least since the beginning of 2021, commander of the Training Center under the Armed Forces Support Command.
But while Zyla's troubles due to the name of Izdebski seem to have ended, new problems opened up for the Polish businessman in Poland, after he won in 2020 a contract of 44.5 million euros from the Ministry of Health for the supply of respiratory medical equipment.
According to the contract, Izdebski was supposed to supply until June 30, 2020 - at the height of the pandemic from COVID-19, 920 respirators. The price was three times higher than the market price, but it was justified on the condition that the devices would be delivered quickly. But in the world involved in the race to secure the same equipment, the arms dealer accused, among others, of breaking the embargo and supplying arms to Croatia during the wars to break up the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, did not succeed fulfilled the contract on time.
When Izdebski managed to secure some of the devices, the Polish Ministry of Health gave them up and they were stored at the Warsaw airport. This left the 71-year-old with a liability of at least 8 million euros to the government - a liability that could increase from further investigations because even the respirators that were handed in are suspected to be unusable and would be expensive to repair.
Under investigation in his country, Izdebski chose Tirana. According to the regional office of the Prosecutor's Office of Lublin, Izdebski's hometown, he had left Poland on December 9, 2020.
"Andrzej was not called to the prosecutor's office to inform him of the charges, because it was known that the suspect was not at his residence," declared the spokesperson of the Lublin Regional Prosecutor's Office, Karol Blajerski.
Izdebski was declared wanted in March 2022, only after complaints from Polish MPs, who pointed out that he had failed to pay VAT on respirators he sold to the Ministry of Health.
But at this time the deceased was already in Tirana trying to set up a new business with old friends.
Business in Tirana
Evidence provided by BIRN and the newspaper Wyborcza shows that Izdebski came to Albania at the end of 2021 and contacted Ylli Zyla. In January, at the proposal of Zyla, he met Syrja Myftari and both offered him to be an administrator in a new company of Izdebski, which, according to the description placed in the National Business Center, would deal with trade in military materials, weapons , mining a host of other fields.
Myftari - a former aviation engineer and former SHIU employee, said during an interview in a cafe in Tirana that he had met the Pole through a "close school friend", but insisted that he would not tell his name for the sake of friendship.
"You said it," he added half-laughing when asked directly about Zyla. At the end of January 2022, a few weeks after they met for the first time, Myftari and Izdebski registered a company called 'Trade Invest & More' sh.pk
Myftari, who meanwhile worked in a winery, was appointed administrator of the new company and agreed to be paid 80,000 Lek per month – a payment he said he never saw.
"Andrej told me that we would deal with the trade of respirators and military materials and weapons, I told him that I did not agree with the weapons," Myftari recalled.
Myftari says he met Izdebski only four times. In all cases he was together with Zyla who served as a translator. Only once in March, Myftari and Izdebski were alone. At that time, they went to the offices of the Immigration Police in Tirana, to get a residence permit for the Pole.
According to him, the arms dealer had overstayed his stay in the country and had to travel to Montenegro for several days before he could re-enter Albania.
Myftari says that initially he had no idea about Izdebski's past. He told him that for two months after registering the company, he did not know what Andrej's last name was. But then I started searching the internet.
"When I saw what was written about him in Poland, I called my friend," Myftari recalled, adding that "he assured me that everything would be fine."
"He told me that the problems were in Poland, but we don't have to worry, because there is no problem here," added the 51-year-old.
But the problems quickly came to an end. Myftari says that initially they were unable to open a bank account, as a number of banks refused.
"I understood that it had something to do with Andrej's past," he said.
In the end, a branch of a Hungarian bank in Tirana agreed to open the account, but only on the condition that the business object be narrowed. Then Izdebski decided to work on the business of respirators.
On the other hand, the company's bank account remained empty, as Izdebski did not deposit money into it. When it was announced that he had to pay local tax obligations and social and health insurance obligations, Myftari, who has a loan, became worried and called Zyla again.
"He assured me that the problems were temporary and related to the blocking of Andrejt's accounts in Poland," says Myftari.
He emphasized that he had hoped that the business would work. He even gave Izdebski a bottle of wine from his company as a gift, and when the latter expressed interest in this business as well, Myftari was committed to getting a good offer from his boss at the winery.
But despite the cantina's offer being very good, Izdebski did not reply. Myftari says that this made him stand out at work - with which he supported his family, and from that moment he wanted to leave the Pole's company. He says that when his social security obligations were due and they hadn't been paid, he pressured him to leave if the payment wasn't made.
But on May 17, about 700,000 ALL was poured into the business accounts. A part of them, about 300 thousand Lek, was taken in cash; from Izdebski, the others were used on June 3 to pay off the liabilities.
Myftari says that at this time, he was clear that this job had no future.
"Do I regret being involved?! Yes, it seemed to me as if they threw me," he said.
The testimonies received and the summaries of the investigation of the Prosecutor's Office of Tirana seen by BIRN and Wyborcza newspaper show that the 71-year-old began to feel bad on Saturday, June 18.
Syrja Myftari says that he learned from "his friend" that that day they had been for lunch in Shëngjergj. After lunch when the others had gotten up to go hiking, Izdebski had said he would stay because he wasn't feeling well.
Myftari said that Zyla had offered to take him to the hospital, but the 71-year-old refused, saying that he would pass.
The administrator of the palace, Tomorr Baruti, claims a similar conversation with Zyla at lunch on June 20, when Izdebski was found dead.
"He felt very bad that he had not insisted on sending him to the hospital," he recalled.
Zyla then tried to call Izdebski. Baruti says that since Zyla - whom he identifies in the photo - did not answer his phone on Monday morning, he thought the Pole was asleep. But after another attempt to connect failed, he appeared at the apartment.
When Izdebski did not answer her knocks, Zyla called the police and the fire department, who found him dead. Prosecutor Naim Tota, who is investigating the case, said that no signs of violence were found on his body. A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity stressed that the involvement of a third person was ruled out, as the door was locked from the inside and there were no signs of breaking.
Prosecutor Tota stated that at the moment they had no reason to investigate beyond natural death. The head of the Prosecutor's Office of Tirana, Arens Çela, emphasized that other investigations could be undertaken only if there were doubts that the cause of death was something else.
Asked about Izdebski's past, prosecutors in Tirana said they had no information. They also claimed that they had not even had a single contact from Polish authorities regarding the investigation into the 71-year-old's death. The only ones interested were the relatives who had taken the body to the Tirana morgue.
Although they seem certain about the causes of death, officially the Albanian authorities are waiting for the completion of toxicology analyzes from the Institute of Forensic Medicine.
Meanwhile, scared that the businessman's sudden death would open up additional work for him, Syrja Myftari said that he was relieved only when one of the doctors he had contacted assured him that everything was natural. Now he is trying to remove himself from the company of the deceased, but as this shows, it is not an easy task.