Saturday, September 17, 2016

Albanians Trade Accusations Over Mystery Plane Crash

The crash of an Italian plane - reportedly carrying drugs - in the Ishem area of Albania has become the subject of numerous conflicting claims between politicians and journalists.

Fatjona Mejdini

The plane crashed in Ishem. Photo: State Police

Mystery - and a thick web of conspiracy theories - surrounds the circumstances under which a small plane with an Italian pilot crashed on Thursday in the Ishem area north of Tirana, leaving the pilot who was flying alone slightly injured.

After police at first reported that 69-year-old Andrea Guidi said he was flying over Albania for innocent purposes, it is now widely believed he was on a drug-trafficking mission. The journalist who broke the story was meanwhile briefly detained.

Initially, after the downed plane was found, Albanian police said that in his first testimony, the pilot had claimed he had set off from Bari in Italy across Albania to enjoy the fine views, and the plane had crashed for "technical reasons".

However, media and opposition parties immediately questioned this version, comparing the crash to another in May 2014, when an Italian pilot, Giorgio Riformato, crashed his plane in Divjaka in southern Albania, while it was loaded with cannabis.

Thursday's crash then took on a new a twist after a journalist revealed that the pilot had offered to collaborate with prosecutors after confirming that he was flying over Albania to prepare to transport drugs.

Journalist Artan Hoxha broke the news on TV Klan on Thursday that Guidi had told prosecutors that he was inspecting the terrain, while planning to return after 20 days and pick up 200 kg of cannabis.

After the TV show, prosecutors detained the journalist, however, accusing him of divulging the secrets of the official investigation.

A video of the moment when Hoxha was asked to testify about the sources of his information shows him saying: "I didn't know that the information I got was a part of the secrets of the investigation". The journalist was released an hour later.

Politics added a further twist to the case after the main opposition Democratic Party suggested that the information that Hoxha shared on TV was, in fact, released by the Interior Minister, Saimir Tahiri, in order to "compromise the investigation".

"The Democratic Party express deep concern for the compromising of the investigation against the Italian pilot by the Interior Minister," the party said.

"This governmental compromising is done with the aim of giving time to the Albanian drug dealers who hired the plane, to hide their real intentions," the statement reads.

The opposition has long accused Interior Ministry officials of collaborating in the drugs trade and of secretly supporting those who grow cannabis in the country. The authorities deny the claim.
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