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Albania Prosecutors Seek Former Deputy PM Arben Ahmetaj’s Arrest

Arben Ahmetaj, a long-time member of Albania’s parliament and former Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister is facing a request from prosecutors for his arrest on charges of corruption and money laundering.

Ahmetaj, 54, holds parliamentary immunity, so the Special Structure Against Corruption and Organised Crime, SPAK, has asked parliament for permission to arrest him.

Similar procedures in the past have been treated differently by Albania’s ruling Socialists; in some case rapid approval was a formality while in one case, they refused to grant permission. However, Socialist leader and PM Edi Rama has promised he will not protect officials facing charges and the procedure this time is expected to be fast.

SPAK said it is charging Ahmetaj with corruption, money laundering and falsifying personal wealth statements, which politicians should submit in Albania each year.

Gazmend Bardhi, General Secretary of the opposition Democratic Party, hailed the decision but deemed the SPAK investigation “incomplete”.

“The request to send Arben Ahmetaj to face justice for the corrupt affair of the incinerators is just, but it is also a late one,” Bardhi wrote on Twitter. “SPAK should go deeper and investigate thoroughly up to the head of this corrupt affair – Edi Rama,” he added.

SPAK chief Altin Dumani underlined that since the case is ongoing, the procedures for the approval of the request should be held behind closed doors.

The specific causes of the arrest are not known but Ahmetaj has been under investigation over suspected illegal benefits obtained by some businessmen who won hundreds of millions of euros of public contracts to build three waste incinerators.

In March, agents from the National Bureau of Investigations, an anti-corruption agency, monitored a villa in a seaside resort owned by Ahmetaj’s partner. His lawyers claimed the inspection disregarded Ahmetaj’s immunity as MP.

Albania’s government awarded a contract for a waste incinerator in Elbasan in 2015, through procedures deemed by the prosecutors unlawful.

Former Minister of Environment Lefter Koka is currently on trial for corruption and money laundering following charges first exposed by his former party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, that he had benefited to the tune of millions of euros through a string of façade companies.

Ahmetaj has a declared personal wealth of some three million euros. He has repeatedly claimed he is innocent of the charges. As former Deputy Prime Minister, he is the highest-level official to face such charges in the last three decades.

Source : Balkaninsight