By Gjergj Erebara
Two MPs have lost their right to sit in Albania’s parliament after prosecutors said they had failed to declare criminal offences they committed in Italy several years ago.
Aqif Rakipi, a powerful politician in the Elbasan region from the Justice, Unity and Integration Party, PDIU, in central Albania, lost his mandate as a member of Albania’s parliament on Friday, after prosecutors confirmed his role in a crime involving stolen goods in Italy in 1998.
A second MP, Gledjon Rehovica, from the opposition Socialist Movement of Integration, was also stripped of his seat because of his role in a case of shoplifting, also in Italy, back in 1999.
The Central Election Commission, CEC, had deliberated over the issue for days since last December, when prosecutors informed them of the results of their investigation.
Rakipi, also a businessman with activities in the mining sector, claimed he was innocent.
Rehovica, who had worked as a director in various state-owned enterprises before being elected to parliament in 2013, also claimed he was innocent. Both have the right to appeal the CEC decision before the Tirana Administrative Court.
Parliament’s composition remains unaffected, however. Under the Albanian electoral system, they will be substituted by other candidates from their own parties.
Albania approved a law to exclude criminal offenders from public offices in 2015 after the 2013 general election saw a number of people either convicted or suspected of crimes entering parliament.
Others with equally dubious pasts won mayoral races in 2015. Since then, some of these MPs have resigned, while others have been ousted.
Rakipi did not report any events requiring clarification in his past and the preliminary controls by prosecutors found him clean.
However, prosecutors then obtained his fingerprints from the biometric ID database and sent them for a second check to the Italian authorities, who answered that the fingerprints matched a criminal named Skender Ejylbegaj.
The same happened with the other MP who was found clean under his own name but was identified as a shoplifter under the name of Kusta Mina.
Albania’s so-called “decriminalisation law” bans from office only those convicted of serious crimes. However, MPs can also be disqualified if they fail to declare any offences.