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Albania's Ex-PM Berisha Under House Arrest During Corruption Probe

FILE - Sali Berisha, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, speaks to his supporters on Dec. 21, 2023. An Albanian court ordered Berisha's house arrest on Dec. 30.
FILE - Sali Berisha, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, speaks to his supporters on Dec. 21, 2023. An Albanian court ordered Berisha's house arrest on Dec. 30.

An Albanian court Saturday ordered house arrest for former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who leads the opposition Democratic Party and is being investigated for possible corruption.

Judge Irena Gjoka of the First Instance Special Court on Corruption and Organized Crime, which covers cases involving senior officials and politicians, accepted prosecutors’ request to put Berisha, 79, under house arrest after he violated the previous restrictive measures of reporting every two weeks. He was also barred from traveling abroad.

His lawyer, Genc Gjokutaj, said the court also barred Berisha from communicating with people other than members of his family who live with him. Gjokutaj said he would appeal the court order.

“No criminal charge or new evidence supported this new request,” Gjokutaj said. “None of the legal criteria required for imposing or escalating such restrictions are met in this case.”

Albanian media outlets reported the arrival of police officers at Berisha’s apartment building in downtown Tirana. It is not clear how officers planned to monitor him.

Last week, parliament voted to strip Berisha of his legal immunity. Lawmakers loyal to Berisha tried to disrupt the session and boycotted the vote.

Berisha has criticized the investigation of him and called his arrest political repression ordered by Prime Minister Edi Rama. Depriving Berisha of communication may become a wider political issue because he’s the leader of the main opposition party.

He has warned of “powerful protests.”

“The Democratic Party calls on all Albanians and its supporters to continue our ‘today or never’ battle for the restoration of the political pluralism and [Prime Minister] Edi Rama’s deserved punishment,” Luciano Boci, a senior party leader, said at a news conference after the judge issued the order.

In October, prosecutors publicly put Berisha under investigation for allegedly abusing his post to help his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, privatize public land to build 17 apartment buildings. Prosecutors have yet to file formal charges in court and Berisha is still technically under investigation.

“Rama’s New Year postcard is the arrest and isolation of the opposition leader!” Berisha’s son Shkelzen posted on Facebook.

Rama declined to comment on the court order authorizing Berisha's house arrest.

“The arrest of anyone of whichever political party is never the victory of any party," he said. "The parties win elections to take the country ahead, and the parties are not military organizations which operate to eliminate the opponents.”

Berisha served as Albania’s prime minister from 2005-13, and as president from 1992-97. He was reelected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in the 2021 parliamentary elections.

The United States government in May 2021 and the United Kingdom in July 2022 barred Berisha and close family members from entering their countries because of alleged involvement in corruption.

Opposition lawmakers have regularly disrupted sessions of parliament to protest the ruling Socialists’ refusal to create commissions to investigate alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials.

The Socialists say the plans are not in line with constitutional requirements.

The disruptions are an obstacle to much-needed reforms at a time when the European Union has agreed to start the process of harmonizing Albanian laws with those of the EU as part of the Balkan country’s path toward full membership in the bloc.