Gjergj Erebara Tirana BIRN June 18, 2019
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama vowed to sue a German journalist, claiming he is being blackmailed by the publication of intercepted conversations allegedly implicating his ruling Socialist Party in abuses of office.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama claimed on Monday that he is being blackmailed by the publication of prosecution-intercepted conversations that are alleged to highlight widespread violations by scores of Socialist Party officials during local elections in the Dibra municipality in 2016.
In a series of messages on Twitter, Rama said he will sue Peter Tiede, a German journalist who published the leaked conversations in the German newspaper Bild.
“I decided to sue this journalist in German courts and in that blessed country,” Rama said in one Twitter post, hours after new 16 intercepted phone calls were published by Bild in German and English, and the audio was posted on Tiede’s Facebook page in Albanian.
Several of the intercepted conversations involve Socialist Party MPs, a minister and several public administration officials, along with a local businessman, and appear to demonstrate that there was a wide-ranging campaign of vote-buying and voter intimidation.
The intercepted calls include a school director threatening he will fire teachers who do not show enthusiastic support for the Socialist Party and a police officer acknowledging he misused his position to block buses full of opposition supporters from reaching polling stations.
In one of the conversations, Prime Minister Rama is heard asking a Socialist Party official called Arben Keshi for an update on the ongoing local elections.
Keshi, whose name appears in most of the conversations allegedly discussing vote-buying, informs Rama that he believes everything is going as planned.
According to Bild, Keshi was a police officer at the centre of the Socialist Party’s illegal operation in Dibra.
Rama confirmed that the conversation between him and Keshi was genuine, but denied any wrongdoing, insisting that Keshi was not a public official during the elections, just a Socialist Party supporter.
“I do confirm this conversation and I would do it again,” Rama wrote on Twitter. “AK did not work in the police force back then,” he added.
Apparently based on this detail, Rama said he would sue Bild journalist Tiede.
Albanian officials have accused Tiede, among other things, of having received bribes from the opposition Democratic Party and of publishing the leaks to damage Albania’s hopes of opening membership negotiations with the EU.
The leaks published on Monday were the second tranche of intercepted conversations recorded by Albania prosecutors allegedly showing close collaboration between crime networks and the Socialist Party.
Earlier this month, Bild published another batch allegedly showed how the boss of a drug-trafficking ring in central Albania had pushed a favoured person to become a Socialist Party MP in the 2017 general elections, and how he had collaborated with public officials to threaten public employees to vote for the Socialists, who won the elections.
Earlier this year, two joint investigations by BIRN and Voice of America showed how police probes into drug smuggling had exposed organised crime networks’ involvement in the Socialist Party’s campaigns for the 2016 local elections in Dibra and the 2017 general elections, and how the investigations continue to drag on without charges.