Saturday, December 29, 2007

Albania's foreign minister stripped of immunity, faces charges of corruption

The Associated Press
Photo: Basha and Raice in Washington D.C.
TIRANA, Albania:

Albania's parliament stripped the foreign minister of immunity Thursday, paving the way for the public prosecutor to charge him with corruption and abuse of power.
The lawmakers voted 107-12 in favor of investigating Lulzim Basha over allegations of improperly favoring a U.S.-Turkish joint venture in the awarding of a highway construction contract while he was transport minister.

Basha, who has not yet been charged, denies the accusations and says he is willing to answer any questions about his handling of the highway project, which he said was proud to have been part of.Addressing the parliament before the vote, Basha urged the lawmakers to remove his immunity, saying the move would be a break with the country's past of shielding officials.
Basha, who was transport minister from September 2005 until becoming foreign minister in April of this year, could be tried for abuse of power, corruption and causing the budget to swell by some €385 million (US$548 million).

The allegations against Basha are related to an October 2006 deal the state signed with the Bechtel-Enka consortium, made up of San Francisco, California-based Bechtel International Inc. and Istanbul-based Enka. The consortium was awarded a €418 million (US$595 million) contract to build a 65-kilometer (40-mile) section of road.

The highway, to be completed in 2009, will link Albania's isolated north to neighboring ethnic-Albanian-dominated Kosovo. Organized crime and corruption are major issues in Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries, which is struggling to integrate with international institutions.

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