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Albanian Politician Fights for Job Amid Crime Claims

Albania’s interior minister is facing pressure to step down after his brother’s drug conviction comes to light.

17 May 2018

Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj (pictured) yesterday rejected the opposition Democratic Party’s call for his resignation. Several days ago the party released a 2012 Italian court verdict showing that the minister’s brother, Agron Xhafaj, had been given a seven-year sentence for drug trafficking in 2002.

 

The Democrats, the largest party in the opposition, claim that Xhafaj was aware of the conviction but kept silent about it in an attempt to protect him, Reuters reports.

 

The opposition also claims Xhafaj maneuvered a change in the law to protect his brother from extradition to Italy, according to Balkan Insight.

 

The interior minister denies the allegations and said his accusers are scared by his success against organized crime and his support for a European Union-sponsored scheme to vet judges suspected of wrongdoing.

 

“I would like to guarantee them all that even if I had quit yesterday what has been done by my colleagues, the international partners and myself cannot be undone,” Reuters quotes him as saying.

 

Opposition supporters called for his resignation and threw eggs at the ministry building.

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama last week said an audio recording purportedly of Agron Xhafaj speaking with a criminal was fake, Balkan Insight says.  The Democrats argued the call proves Fatmir Xhafaj’s links to drug trafficking.

 

Agron Xhafaj said he had filed charges against Democratic Party officials over the recording.

 

He has since handed himself over to Italian authorities, Albania’s Top Channel TV station reports.

 

On the eve of today’s EU Western Balkan summit, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said inability to bring corrupt “big fish” to justice in the region could slow the EU accession process.

 

Albania and Macedonia are not ready for accession, Hahn said. “However, the necessary reforms can best be achieved during the accession process, when our political levers are by far the largest,” Hahn told the Stuttgarter Zeitung in an interview published Tuesday.

 

 

  • Former Albanian Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri, was put under house arrest on 12 May and now faces charges of drug trafficking and corruption after a seven-month investigation. Tahiri denies the accusations, The Associated Press reports.

 

 

  • Rama received a less than enthusiastic welcome from French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week. Macron has “reservations” about opening accession talks with Albania over the spike in Albanian asylum claims in France, EurActiv writes.

Compiled by Melissa Castano

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