Albanian MP Saimir Tahiri is under investigation for drug crimes. The Italian police obtained transcripts of conversations between members of a criminal group of Italians and Albanians who were participating in the illicit cannabis trade. Two of the members, Moisi and Florian Habilaj, are Tahiri’s distant cousins. They incriminated the MP by mentioning his name during conversations, saying, “Tahiri used the money in Albania’s electoral campaign.” Tahiri, however, has denied the accusations.
Albania’s prosecution body has filed a request for the parliament to remove Tahiri’s immunity as an MP, which would allow for the search of his home and person and permit his arrest based on the charge of complicity in drug-trafficking activity. In a Parliament session on October 21, a majority allowed the prosecution these investigative powers. However, it denied the right to take away immunity from the MP. Tahiri is a member of the Socialist Party, which currently holds a majority in Parliament; the Socialist Party claimed that the proof for the accusation against Tahiri is insufficient for his indictment.
The opposition interpreted the majority’s decision as evidence that Prime Minister Edi Rama and other senior members of the Socialist Party have ties to criminal groups. In fact, Tahiri has been under the political limelight since 2015 when he was accused of having criminal connections while acting as interior minister.
The MP’s case raises a critical question: how far do criminal roots go in Albanian politics? The country aims to join the EU and is currently in the process of conducting a judicial reform in order to improve its legislative system and clean-up corruption. In the event that the accusations in Tahiri’s case turn-out to be true, Albania’s political class will suffer a harsh blow to its legitimacy and accountability.
Tahiri’s investigation continues while Rama has reinforced the importance of a transparent process. A majority representative, Ulsi Manja, declared that “the prosecution is free to conduct its investigations, and we encourage it to continue with the same dynamics. We guarantee we will provide support for it to discover the truth.”