Albania: Parliament Greenlights Ex-Deputy PM’s Arrest


By Fjori Sinoruka

Albania’s parliament voted on Friday to accept the Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organised Crime’s request to be able to arrest former Deputy Prime Minister, Arben Ahmetaj.

The SPAK had requested the arrest and a personal search warrant and a house search in connection with charges on corruption and money laundering.

After two days of deliberations, a special council on MPs’ mandates authorised parliament to vote. Of the 119 MPs present in the chamber, 117 voted in favour.

The vote was necessary as parliamentarians enjoy legal immunity from arrest.

Gazmend Bardhi, head of the parliamentary group of the opposition Democratic Party, urged the SPAK “to investigate until the end” the so-called “incinerator case” in which Ahmetaj is involved.

Bardhi also accused Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama of “hiding” Ahmetaj, whose whereabouts are not known. His lawyer has said he is out of the country.

Rama declared that he would address the people later on Friday regarding the vote in parliament.

In a long Facebook post on Friday morning, a few minutes before the vote took place, he said that Ahmetaj was “not on the run” from justice but was absent “for serious family reasons”.

Ahmetaj started his career as high-level official at the tax agency more than two decades ago and rose in the ranks and in wealth fast. He became a deputy minister by 2005 and a Socialist Party MP in 2009.

He became Minister of Economy in 2013 and then Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister. He also has a declared wealth of some 3 million euros according to BIRN’s calculations of his Asset Declaration Statements.

On Monday, Albania’s Special Prosecution requested permission from parliament to arrest him.

Prosecutors say companies or individuals behind controversial waste management contracts signed by Rama’s government between 2014 and 2017 paid Ahmetaj at least 491,000 euros through intermediaries and fake real estate transactions and a seaside villa on Hamallaj, near the Adriatic coast.

They have not charged Ahmetaj with abuse of power, since, as Minister of Economy and Minister of Finance at the time, he had only an indirect role in the three controversial waste management contracts.

But they say he granted a go-ahead for them promptly, and that in one case he invited a ministry employee to his office and communicated his wish that the procedure should move ahead fast. The employee told prosecutors she felt pressured, since that wasn’t under the direct supervision of the minister.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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