Albanian parliament expected to lift immunity of former deputy prime minister

Albanian parliament is expected to greenlight lifting the parliamentary immunity of former deputy prime minister Arben Ahmetaj, currently believed to be on the run, over corruption and money laundering charges, according to Euractiv.

Ahmetaj is accused by the Special Court of Corruption and Organised Crime of at least six counts of corruption and more than one incident of money laundering. According to the prosecution, he benefited from almost half a million euros via the fictitious sale of real estate and fictitious invoices involving two businessmen linked to companies involved in a corrupt incinerator deal.

The incinerators affair saw the government issue three concessions for the construction and operation of waste incinerators in Fier, Tirana, and Elbasan to a company with no experience in such matters and no demand.

First published in Exit, investigations revealed that the contracts would see the company being paid for every day the incinerators were not burning waste, even during construction. This has seen millions in taxpayers’ money be ploughed into them, to the benefit of those behind them, with nothing in the way of results.

So far, two other former government officials, Alqi Blako and Lefter Koka, have been arrested and are in prison awaiting trial.

SPAK asked the Council of Mandates to lift his immunity to pave the way for his arrest, and two hearings were held this week to discuss it. In the second hearing, it was decided by the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition Democratic Party to request authorization from parliament to proceed. The opposition asked that the authorization be granted formally on Thursday, but the socialists asked for more time.

“Our request was for the report to be reviewed as the first item on the agenda in tomorrow’s meeting, but it was arbitrarily decided to review it on Monday. Tomorrow morning, we will submit a request to change the agenda for tomorrow’s session. Any delay is an obstruction of justice,” said Gazment Bardhi, head of the parliamentary group of the DP.

Socialist MP Arben Pëllumbi stated that the majority should listen to the defense to prepare the report. He added that they will submit the report on Friday before noon.

Meanwhile, Gazment Bardhi reiterated at the end of the meeting that the file provided to the Parliament by SPAK also includes the names of other officials, including former Minister Damian Gjiknuri.

“Some of the names have been made public, such as others who have been accused by us. Damian Gjiknuri, Ermonela Felaj, and two former mayors, now deputies, Fadil Nasufi and Baftjar Zeqo. Why are cases being singled out by SPAK, as it is clear that there is an intention not to treat this activity as an organised criminal group?” said Bardhi.

It is believed that Ahmetaj left Albania via Greece hours before SPAK released his arrest warrant. His lawyers have refused to give information on his whereabouts.

Ahmetaj is the highest-ranking Albanian official to face such charges in the last 30 years.