Tirana, Albania – | 05 Feb 2022 (Tirana Echo) – Albania’s former interior minister Saimir Tahiri has been sentenced to over three years in prison over ‘Abuse of Office’ charges.
This is the first high profile case of the reformed justice institutions of the small and highly corrupt Balkan country.
Tahiri, a close ally to current socialist PM Edi Rama, had previously been sentenced to five years in prison in 2019 by the Serious Crimes Court, a sentence which was later converted to three years of probation while his charges on drug trafficking were dropped.
However, the initial sentence was overruled by the High Court last year, which ordered a retrial due to irregular procedural shortcomings.
The newly established Special Appeals Court for Corruption and Organised Crime in Tirana wrote in a Press Release that Mr. Tahiri had benefited from his high position and abused his office powers.
The Appeals Court decided to amend the initial sentence of the Serious Crimes Court (GJKKO) and deny Tahiri the right to stay at home, opting instead to put him in an ordinary prison for three years and four months.
Tahiri, who maintains his innocence, has confirmed his intention to appeal the sentence at the High Court within 45 days.
“It is simply unjust. I am morally calm. I have not violated the law, but I have done my job as best I could”, said Tahiri after the sentencing.
Hi lawyer, Max Haxhia said “the verdict was a judicial nonsense, and was given only to stain Tahiri,” and confirmed they will appeal.
In a legal saga which has been lingered on for nearly five years, prosecutors had initially pressed charges of involvement in drug trafficking networks, which were later dismissed by the Court.
Saimir Tahiri served as Albania’s Interior Minister from 2013 to 2017. He resigned from his parliamentary mandate in May 2018 and was briefly held under house arrest.
One of the closes aides of socialist PM Edi Rama and former head of the Socialist Party in Tirana, Tahiri has been at the forefront of controversy for his alleged involvement with drug trafficking networks. He has been constantly accused by the opposition Democratic Party that he has been closely linked to drug smuggling networks, following recordings of a criminal group in Sicily.
Tahiri has constantly denied any links to organized crime, insisting his case is a typical political which-hunt to hide criminal activities of the past government.
The US Ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim, who’s Embassy has closely followed the case, said no one is above the law.
“We urge judicial institutions to continue to demonstrate that no one – regardless of party, position, or wealth – is above the law. No more impunity” – said Kim on Twitter.
However, the sentencing comes amid growing disbelief of Albanian people on the US & EU sponsored justice reform which aims to cleanse Albania’s highly corrupt justice system.
According to a recent survey conducted by Euronews Albania, nearly one-third of respondents (31.7%) have now lost their faith that the system will ever be freed from corruption and less than half of respondents (45.1%) believe that the corrupted politicians might be convicted.
In April 2021, Europol said in a special report that “Albania remains a major source of herbal cannabis trafficked into the EU, with highly organized criminal networks engaged“.
Albania hopes to start EU membership talks soon, but its aspirations are hampered by enlargement fatigue and growing skepticism by member states that the small Balkan country can improve its rule of law credentials and fight endemic corruption. The EU decision to start negotiations has been on a ‘chronic delay‘ for the past 5 years, with no clear perspective ahead.
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