Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Albania PM Backs Ex-Minister in Drug Crime Probe

Edi Rama sharply criticised a probe of drug crime allegations against his former interior minister, causing the opposition and prosecutor's office to complain that the premier was interfering with the prosecution.
Fatjona Mejdini BIRN Tirana

PM Edi Rama on Monday morning meeting with Socialist MPs. Photo: Livestream screenshot
Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Monday that his ruling Socialist Party majority in parliament will turn down a request from the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes, which asked for a mandate to arrest former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri.

In a speech broadcast live on Facebook, Rama told parliamentarians from the ruling majority that he wholeheartedly supports a report by Socialist MPs on the Council for Regulations, Mandates and Immunities that said that the prosecution’s request was not based on evidence.

Prosecutors say they have reasonable suspicion that Tahiri was involved in drug trafficking while he was a minister, aiding a smuggling ring directed by his cousins.

Rama said that he is not yet sure whether his former minister and MP Tahiri is innocent, but slammed what he called the arbitrary nature of the prosecution request.

"In which state and in which theory of justice is it possible to ask the accused to prove that he is not guilty... The accused does not have to prove anything when the accuser doesn't give any proof for the accusation that has been made," Rama said.

"In what era are we living when four badly-written pages require the arrest of an MP?" he asked.

However, Rama said that on Wednesday the parliamentary majority will approve the authorisation for Tahiri to be prevented from leaving the country, obliging him to present himself for questioning and allowing a search of his house.

Tahiri also was dismissed from his official positions in the Socialist Party and from the Socialist parliamentary group.

Rama’s stance on Tahiri enraged the opposition, whose leader Lulzim Basha asked the EU and US - which have contributed to Albanian judicial reforms - to condemn what he called the attacks on the prosecution.

"If the government is allowed to threaten and intimidate justice, corruption and crime in Albania will grow further," Basha said.

The Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes said that Rama’s comments exceeded his authority.

"He expressed his opinion and assessment of proof presented by the prosecution. So publicly he took on the role of the court, an attribution that he cannot have," the prosecution said in a statement.

Albania’s prosecution system is going to undergo deep changes in the coming months as result of judicial reform, the vetting of prosecutors and the creation of new judicial bodies.

A new Special Prosecutor’s Office for investigating high-level corruption is expected to be established.

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