Press Release

Speech of the General Prosecutor, Mr. Olsian Çela, at the Roundtable on Electoral Matters; Serious institutional commitment and transparency in investigating criminal acts that undermine elections

I wish to express my utmost appreciation for the attendance in this meeting, for two reasons. Firstly, for acknowledging the pivotal role the prosecution plays in safeguarding the public interest throughout the electoral process, and for recognizing the necessity to responsibly assess each contribution that meets our mission; and secondly, for the distinctive features of the material presented at this roundtable such as reports comprising findings and recommendations spanning a 7-year period of engagement in this aspect.
The General Prosecution is committed to safeguarding the legal and penal protection of free and fair elections and the democratic electoral process by undertaking institutional legal measures to enhance the efficiency of investigations and prosecution against individuals committing criminal acts affecting free elections. Within this framework, institutional measures aimed at:
-Issuing normative acts to unify the prosecution offices’ organization and operation during electoral periods.
-Collaborating to provide training for prosecutors and judicial police officers in election-related matters, and involving prosecutors in the training of criminal police staff, in response to the General Directorate of the State Police requests for cooperation.
During the preliminary investigation phase, prosecutors have been requested to assess and prioritize, within accelerated deadlines, any reports and accusations regarding criminal acts affecting free elections and the democratic electoral system, or any other criminal offenses damaging the electoral process. This assessment should be done in coordination with the Central Election Commission for its submitted accusations, and with specialized law enforcement agencies, so as to conduct proactive investigations, utilize special investigative tools according to the law, and intensify investigations into these criminal offenses. Additionally, they have been requested to pay attention to the imposition of personal security measures for these criminal offenses, to assess the tightening of demands, both in terms of the types of personal security measures and the severity of punishments for election-related criminal acts. 
A specialized unit has been established within the General Prosecution Office, acting as a central point of contact to coordinate, communicate, and share information with the Central Election Commission, law enforcement agencies, and international organizations' representatives, thus ensuring the investigations’ confidentiality.
In order to foster cooperation, raise awareness, and build public trust in law enforcement agencies combating electoral crime, the General Prosecution Office has established a dedicated section on its official website, that encourages citizens to report any instances of legal violations they've witnessed or that have affected their rights as voters, during both the pre-election period and on election day. The statistics concerning criminal offenses impacting free elections and the democratic electoral process reveal that in 2023, there were 25 recorded criminal cases involving 19 defendants. In the preceding year of 2022, there were 26 criminal cases reported, with 16 defendants involved. Two criminal cases, comprising 14 defendants, were sent for trial, resulting in the conviction of 2 defendants. Conversely, in 2022, three criminal cases involving 16 defendants were sent for trial, and 14 defendants were convicted.
Based on the nature of criminal offenses, the highest number of registered cases falls under the category of "Misuse of public office for political or electoral activities," with 8 criminal proceedings and 6 defendants; for the offense of "Voting more than once or without proper identification," which resulted in 5 criminal proceedings and 10 defendants. One case involving 10 defendants was sent for trial, leading to the conviction of one defendant. Regarding "Intimidation or Abuse against Participants in Election" 4 criminal proceedings were initiated, resulting in the conviction of one defendant. Three cases were registered for "Voter intimidation," and 3 for "Obstructing of Voters". Additionally, 2 cases involving 2 defendants each were recorded for "Violating voting secrecy," and so on.
However, beyond institutional aspirations, official statistics, and the general perception of the prosecution offices role in the electoral process, a report that scrutinizes a substantial amount of information drawn from prosecutors' decisions offers a vital critical perspective for the performance of the prosecution system and individual prosecutors in evaluating the quality of their work.
Therefore, in my communications with the organizers of this event and the heads of prosecution offices, I requested the coordination of the participation process in this forum through the Office of the General Prosecution, so as to signal that investigating electoral crimes is a crucial challenge requiring institutional-level attention. Such an approach not only ensures the necessary focus but also facilitates a serious reflection on the cases at hand.
This meeting should facilitate a constructive exchange of viewpoints between prosecutors and all stakeholders involved in this process, not only to address perspectives on findings or recommendations, but also to increase transparency regarding the role of the prosecution in the electoral process.
At this stage, I'll again refer to the reports I've carefully reviewed and I take the opportunity to extend my appreciation to the authors for their diligent work. In reports, although statistical discrepancies may be encountered, there are quite interesting and valuable findings. Meanwhile, there have been addressed and upheld opinions on contentious issues deserving to be discussed, which are inevitable due to the nature of the process itself. The reports have broadly covered cases that have not been initiated or dismissed ones, emphasizing the encountered problems that deserve our utmost attention. An enhanced aspect of the reports could have been a more comprehensive description of the positive experiences, which are not lacking. Therefore, I previously provided some statistical data from the years 2022 and 2023.
Nonetheless, regardless of the differing perspectives on the findings and recommendations, it is important to acknowledge the initiative taken and the professional courage of the authors that not only contributes to transparency in the investigation of electoral crimes but also provides valuable analytical insights at all levels of organizational work, particularly concerning the performance of prosecutors, directors, and prosecution offices where they serve. Regarding the aforementioned points, ensuring accountability through professional assessment or disciplinary processes to enhance effectiveness and efficiency remains one of the pressing challenges in the prosecution system. Moreover, there is a need to devise supportive mechanisms that would foster improved institutional functionality and cohesion.
From the reports, I regretfully observed a relative lack of cooperation on the side of the prosecution offices in providing all requested decisions, contrary to the conveyed request through the general directive to ensure transparency throughout our activities in the electoral process. In every meeting held in the district prosecution offices or contacts with their heads, I have urged not only cooperation but also proactive involvement in promoting transparency regarding the investigation of electoral crimes for each decision made.
I firmly believe that it was crucial for the Central Election Commission to inform the General Prosecution Office about these encountered obstacles, so as to address and prevent them, as the inadequacy of gathered information might have impacted the extensiveness and depth of the report's findings.
Nevertheless, this serves as a typical example of the confusion created by the recent reorganization of the prosecution to nearly all those involved, who fail to grasp the role of coordination played by the General Prosecution Office in executing the institution's functions. Undoubtedly, ensuring transparency and nurturing a spirit of collaboration, both inter-institutionally and with civil society and the public, stands as one of our foremost priorities. 
Considering all the aforementioned reasons, it is essential for the prosecutors present today to actively participate in this forum. Their contribution is crucial for enhancing the quality of findings and recommendations presented in the reports. They should engage responsibly with the issues raised and provide insightful professional assessments to identify objective solutions for the future.
While concluding this speech, I would like to reassure everyone that our commitment to investigating electoral crimes has been and will remain earnest. The findings of these reports will continue to be carefully addressed in the annual analyses conducted within the district prosecution offices and throughout the upcoming year, aiming at the identification and implementation of measures that will enhance the quality of work in the prosecution offices of general jurisdiction on this aspect.