By Benet Koleka
TIRANA, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Albanian prosecutors asked
parliament on Thursday to remove the immunity of former interior
minister Saimir Tahiri to allow them to investigate him on
corruption and drug trafficking charges, the prosecution said.
The measure is a blow to the Socialist government of Prime
Minister Edi Rama since Tahiri, interior minister for four years
until March this year, led a drive to reform the police force
and was initially successful in ending cannabis production in
the south in 2014.
Prosecutors say they want to investigate him following the
arrest in Italy this week of an Albanian, Moisi Habilaj, on drug
Habilaj, in phone conversations tapped by Italian police and
released to Italian and Albanian media, said that Tahiri
regularly made large sums of money from drug payments.
In an emotional defence made on Wednesday to parliament,
Tahiri said he had made the mistake of selling his car to
Habilaj, a distant relative, but otherwise denied any links with
him. He said he was the victim of disinformation spread by
Prosecutors from the serious crimes division asked
parliament to strip Tahiri of his immunity, which he still holds
as a member of parliament, so they can prosecute him for drug
trafficking and corruption based on a joint investigation with
Parliament could make a decision in the next 24 hours.
Prime Minister Rama, in his second month of a second
four-year term, said he hoped Tahiri would prove he had no links
to the traffickers and that justice would shed light on the
Though Tahiri was credited with energetic anti-drugs action
in 2014, he is widely seen as having failed in 2015 and 2016 to
stop Albania from becoming one of the biggest open air
cultivators of cannabis in Europe.
Rama did not pick Tahiri, one of his closest associates, for
a ministerial role in his second term.
The affair has handed ammunition to the opposition
Democratic Party which sees itself as vindicated in its
persistent denunciation of the cannabis trade and the links of
drug traffickers with the police and is now pressing Rama to
Early on Thursday, reacting to the arrests in Italy, police
in the southern region of Vlore seized almost four tonnes of
cannabis in the house of an associate of the Habilaj group.
Italian police had been monitoring the Habilaj clan for four
years when they arrested Moisi Habilaj this week.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
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