The Albanian parliament voted on Wednesday to block the arrest of Saimir Tahiri, a Socialist MP and former interior minister wanted for questioning by prosecutors in relation to an international drug smuggling operation. Seventy-five MPs voted to deny a request by the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes for a mandate to arrest Tahiri, whose name came up in wiretapped conversations among a group of Italo-Albanian gang drug dealers arrested in Italy last week. Tahiri, who denies the charges, had the support of his party, who hold a majority in parliament.
The case revolves around the arrest of Moisi and Florian Habilaj, distant cousins of Tahiri, suspected of smuggling over 3500 kilos of cocaine from Albania to Italy. According to Italian police Moisi Habilaj is recorded as saying that someone named Tahiri will receive 30,000 euro as well as bracelets for his wife and mother worth several thousand, and then a further sum of five million euro next month. Days later in a follow-up raid by Albanian police in Valona in the south of the country, four tonnes of marijuana were seized and the property owner, Armando Kacerri, who is suspected of being part of the Habilaj gang, was arrested.
Prosecutors, who suspect that Habilaj is referring to Saimir Tahiri in the tapes, made a request that his immunity be lifted by parliament so he can be arrested. Speaking before parliament on Wednesday Tahiri said he will make himself available for questioning whatever the outcome of the vote. On Monday Prime Minister Edi Rama voiced his opposition to the the request and the government’s intention to vote against it.
“In which state and in which theory of justice is it possible to ask the accused to prove that he is not guilty,” Prime Minister Rama said in a speech to parliament. “The accused does not have to prove anything when the accuser doesn’t give any proof for the accusation that has been made,” he continued.
The opposition condemned the outcome of the vote with the former prime minister Sali Berisha, now an opposition MP saying “there has never been a more shameful decision that this one taken by parliament today.
Saimir Tahiri was first accused of drug smuggling in 2014 by Dritan Zagani, a narcotics police officer, who during the course of an investigation into the activities of Moisi Habilaj found that he was using a car owned by Tahiri to make suspect trips. Zagani has since gone into exile in Switzerland after he was accused of abuse of office and passing on investigative information to the Italian authorities. He denies acting improperly and says his arrest was an effort on the part of the government to shut down his investigation of the then interior minister. Tahiri sold the car to Artan Habilaj, Moisi and Florian’s brother in 2013 and admits using it again in 2014, but denies ever being in the car with Artan Habilaj or knowing that it was used for illegal activities. This is refuted by prosecutors who say they have evidence that in 2014 Tahiri and Habilaj drove together from Greece to Albania.
Although Parliament voted against mandating his arrest, Tahiri is not allowed to leave the country and must comply with the investigation.