Albania Won’t let Prosecutor Arrest Ex Minister

Published: 26 October 2017

telechargement 23 copyOpposiiton leader Lulzim Basha (Photo: European People's Party, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Sophie Balay

Albanian parliament rejected on Wednesday the prosecutors' request to arrest one of their peer and former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri, who is accused of being linked to a drug trafficking ring.

Out of 75 lawmakers, 60 voted against the arrest, saying they believed there is not enough evidence to support the prosecutor’s claims. Lawmakers, however, decided not to allow Tahiri leave the country and obliged him to cooperate with investigators.

The Albanian Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes had launched an investigation into Socialist Party's MP Tahiri on October 17 after a group of Albanians and Italians were arrested on suspicions of having trafficked about 3.5 tons of marijuana over the last four years. Among them were two of Tahiri’s cousins, Moisi and Florian Habilaj.

Authorities believe Tahiri helped the drug traffickers smuggling marijuana into Italy while he was a minister.

On Tuesday, Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha had called for a full investigation into Tahiri after media in Italy and Albania had revealed transcripts of Italian police wiretaps of the two cousins who said Tahiri's MP electoral campaign was partly funded with the proceeds of the drug trafficking.

Tahiri denied any involvement in his cousins' business and said that they used his name to cover their tracks and mislead investigators.

In the Parliamentary Council, the chairman of the Prosecution Office, Besim Hajdarmataj stressed that Tahiri had returned from Greece in the company of one member of the Habilaj family in a car which he allegedly sold in 2013 and only used again for vacation trips with his family.

Although Albanian prosecutors have authority to investigate an MP, they are required to request the parliament's authorization to have his immunity lifted in order to have him arrested or detained.

Opposition fears that the Parliament's decision to let Tahiri free may allow him to destroy further evidence.