Albania’s former deputy premier faces international warrant on corruption charges

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 24, 2023 00:00

Albania’s former deputy premier faces international warrant on corruption charges

Story Highlights

  • Authorities likely to seek extradition, but his location remains unknown since leaving Albania ahead of warrant being issued.

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TIRANA, July 24, 2023 - Albania's former Deputy Prime Minister Arben Ahmetaj has officially been declared a wanted man, following an arrest warrant issued by Albanian authorities, who will now seek to extradite him. Ahmetaj had earlier left the country -- destination unknown. 

Earlier this month, representatives of the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition in the Council of Mandates of Albania’s parliament reached an agreement to open the way for the Special Prosecutor’s request to arrest the former premier on corruption and a series of other charges. Police filed the arrest warrant as soon as parliament provided the green light to do so. 

A Socialist member of parliament, Ahmetaj faces charges of corruption, non-declaration of assets and money laundering by Albania's Special Anti-Corruption Structure, better known by its acronym SPAK.

Investigations into his involvement in the incinerators case have revealed close ties with two businessmen -- Klodian Zoto and Mirel Mërtiri -- who were awarded the state's waste treatment concessions in Elbasan, Fier and Tirana.

According to the Special Prosecutor's Office, Ahmetaj influenced the concession procedures. The office stated that in his official role Ahmetaj "not only failed to obstruct, but there is reasonable suspicion supported by evidence that he was rewarded for every approval he granted."

However, Ahmetaj's defense lawyers argued that the prosecutors accompanying documents lacked justifications for the requested search warrants and security measures. They questioned the necessity of such measures and expressed their opposition to the arrest.

-Ahmetaj leaves the country ahead of arrest-

Prior to the request being submitted to parliament, Ahmetaj left Albania through the Greek border. While his lawyers confirmed communication with him, they refused to disclose his current location or speculate on his return to Albania.

The Council of Mandates meeting, held today at the Parliament, confirmed that Ahmetaj was no longer in Albania. Unofficial reports indicated that he may have traveled to Canada, based on cell phone signal verifications.

The former deputy prime minister's departure raises questions about his intention to evade justice. Ahmetaj's denial of any connections with Zoto and Mërtiri, the main beneficiaries of the concessions, contradicts the investigations' findings. At least six instances of corruption have been uncovered, including the purchase of properties totaling 440,000 euros.

Additionally, Zoto and Mërtiri spent over 30,000 euros on expensive trips and hotel stays for Ahmetaj and his close associates. Emails exchanged between them and luxury hotels across Europe have been disclosed, corresponding with the former deputy prime minister's trips abroad.

-Socialists say they will approve prosecutor's request-

The Council of Mandates meeting, conducted behind closed doors to preserve the investigation's secrecy, adjourned after four hours of deliberation. The session will continue tomorrow to allow lawyers time to review the extensive materials provided by the Prosecutor's Office.

The Council will draft a report to determine whether to proceed with the arrest.

While the Socialists have not issued an official response, they have previously maintained that they will not shield anyone from justice, irrespective of their political affiliation. 

However, in this case, Ahmetaj appears to have chosen a different path by leaving the country -- one that could soon turn him into a fugitive.

Ahmetaj is a prominent Albanian political figure who had for years served in positions close to Prime Minister Edi Rama, notably as Minister of Finance and Minister of Reconstruction following the 2019 earthquake.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 24, 2023 00:00