Albania Parliament Stalls on Allowing MP’s Arrest

Albania's parliament has postponed a decision on whether to allow the arrest of MP Saimir Tahiri on drugs smuggling charges until Saturday.
Saimir Tahiri and his attorny on the Parlamentary Council. Photo: LSA/Gent Shkullaku

The chair of the Albanian parliament’s Council for Regulations, Mandates, and Immunities, Gramoz Ruci, has postponed to Saturday a decision on the request of Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes to allow the arrest of former Interior Minister and current MP Saimir Tahiri.

Prosecutors say they have reasonable suspicion that Tahiri was involved in drug trafficking while he was a minister, aiding a drugs smuggling ring directed by his cousins.

MPs, prosecutors, Tahiri and his lawyer for six hours on Friday debated the prosecutors’ request.

Ruling party MPs mostly said the demand was rushed and not based on serious evidence, while MPs from the opposition said Tahiri should immediately face justice, party since he had the potential to destroy further evidence if he remained at liberty.

Albanian prosecutors have the right to investigate an MP without the need to lift his immunity but still need the permission of parliament to have him arrested or put under house detention.

Prime Minister Edi Rama on Facebook on Friday, during the council session, noted what he called the “bazaar rumours” about the MP.

The prosecution on October 17 opened a case against Tahiri following the arrest of several Albanians and Italians who had allegedly trafficked around 3.5 tons of marijuana over the last four years.

Among those arrested by the Italian police were Tahiri’s two distant cousins, brothers Moisi and Florian Habilaj.

On Tuesday, media in Italy and Albania on Tuesday started to release transcripts of Italian police wiretaps of the alleged drug smugglers, in which they mentioned former Interior Minister Tahiri as someone they had paid off with drugs money.

The alleged drug smugglers also speculated in the wiretaps that Tahiri had used the money in Albanian electoral campaigns.

Tahiri has denied any contact with the Habilaj brothers. However, in 2013, a few weeks after he assumed the position of Interior Minister, he sold his car to their brother, Artan Habilaj, without changing the name of the vehicle owner.

On Tuesday, he conceded that this was a mistake, although he said he had no clue that his car had been used by people involved in criminal activities.

Prosecutors say they have proof that the car sold in 2013 was used again by Tahiri in 2014 four times in the company of the buyer, Artan Habilaj, and by other persons that they do not specify.

In the Parliamentary Council, the chairman of the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes, Besim Hajdarmataj, said that in one of the cases, Tahiri had returned with the sold car from Greece in the company of Artan Habilaj.

On the program, “Opinion”, shown on TV Klan on Thursday, Tahiri admitted that he had used the same car in 2014 while on vacation with his family, but never in the company of any of the Habilaj brothers.

“So as not to use an official car, I asked my uncle [a negotiator in the car sale] to re-use it … but without knowing that the car had been sold to people who had criminal activities,” he said.