Albania Interior Minister Resigns Unexpectedly at the Peak of His Crackdown on Organized Crime

Fatmir Xhafaj Edi Rama Albanian Parliament
Fatmir Xhafaj and Edi Rama during a plenary at the Albanian Parliament

Tirana, Albania | 27 Oct 2018 (Tirana Echo) – Albania’s interior minister Fatmir Xhafaj has unexpectedly resigned today at the peak of his crackdown on crime, in what seems to be hug blow to the country’s governing socialists.

The sudden resignation comes days after Albania’s Police arrested two former socialist MPs and several other notorious crime bosses, as the country’s government has vowed to crack down on corruption and organized crime.

Xhafaj, 59, will be replaced by the prime minister’s national security advisor General Sandër Lleshi, who comes from the army ranks.

The news about Xhafaj’s resignation was announced early this morning by Prime Minister Edi Rama on Twitter who confirmed the new appointment was made immediately, without giving any further explanations about Xhafaj’s departure from his cabinet.

I accepted the resignation of minister Xhafaj whom I thank for his valuable contribution. General Sandër Lleshi will bring new positive energy at the leadership of the Interior Affairs ministry. The path has already been laid. Now we need to accelerate the speed and we need to achieve more meaningful results”. – said Rama in his tweet.

Some local media are reporting there was a major discussion between Rama and Xhafaj that until late last night, which prompted the latter to resign abruptly.

The sudden resignation suggests a major rift had been building up between PM Rama and his interior minister Xhafaj who seemed to have the support of US and EU representatives in the fight against corruption and organized crime. They have credited him with leading the milestone reform of the highly corrupt justice system in Albania during the last 3 years in his previous parliamentary capacity.

However, Xhafaj has been under heavy accusations from the opposition democrats, who demanded his resignation in relation to his brother who had escaped a 7 year jail sentence in neighboring Italy. The democrats accused Xhafaj of using his position to keep his brother from Italian authorities. Since then, Xhafaj’s borther has voluntarily surrendered himself to Italian police to serve the alleged jail sentence, following an audio recording which has since been deemed as fake.

The resignation has been praised by opposition Democratic Party which sees the move as the beginning of the crumbling of Rama’s government.

The departure of Fatmir Xhafaj, the only interior minister in Europe with a drug trafficker as brother, is an important step in our battle to clean up politics from crime”, – said DP chairman Lulzim Basha today.

Earlier in May, Xhafaj refused to step down, saying in a press conference that he had never compromised his duties in order to protect his brother from prosecution while accusing the opposition of joining forces with criminal groups in the country who seek to topple the government.

Xhafaj who previously chaired the Justice Affairs Parliamentary Committe and the Ad-Hoc Justice Reform Committee, replaced former controversial interior minister Saimir Tahiri in March 2017, who had also been accused by the opposition of being linked to crime bosses and helping the spread of cannabis cultivation across the country.

Earlier this week, Tahiri who has been under investigation by prosecutors, signaled a press conference planned for today, where he would explain in detail allegations about him being involved in drug trafficking and the truth about organized crime in Albania. The conference has now been cancelled, following Xhafaj’s resignation. It is yet unknown whether this pre-meditated conference of Tahiri had anything to do with Xhafaj’s resignation.

Albania hopes to start membership talks with the European Union next year following a positive recommendation by the European Commission earlier this year. However, EU leaders expect the small Balkan nation to deliver tangible results in its fight against organized crime and corruption which are endemic across the country.

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