A Greek expatriate mayoral candidate in the southern Albanian municipality of Himara, Fredi Beleri, was arrested at midnight on Thursday by the Albanian police outside his business premises on suspicion of paying people for their votes, causing strong condemnation from officials in Athens.
Albanian State Police said on Friday that the prosecution in the city of Vlora has charged Beleri with “active corruption in elections”. They added that another person was also arrested on the same charges in Himara, a bilingual municipality with a substantial Greek minority.
Beleris, 51, is running for mayor in this Sunday’s local elections as a candidate for a Greek minority party, Unity for Human Rights Party, PBDNJ, part of the opposition bloc United for Victory, which is led by Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party and the Freedom Party of former Albanian President Ilir Meta.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he had complained to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, about Beleris’s arrest, which he said was “based on non-existent charges”.
“Albania must realise that Greece and the EU are not going to accept reductions in the rule of law and the protection of the rights of the Greek national minority,” Mitsotakis wrote on Facebook.
The Greek ambassador to Tirana, Konstantina Kamitsi, has also raised a formal objection to Beleris’s arrest at the Albanian Foreign Ministry.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter that the case is “a test for justice”.
“The detention of the opposition candidate for Himara F. Beleri by order of the prosecution constitutes a great test for justice on the eve of the elections, which means that a violation of the law on his part must be proven and his detention legally motivated,” Rama wrote.
The head of Beleris’s office in Athens, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that Belaris was arrested “for no reason” because he was going to defeat his opponent in Sunday’s mayoral vote.
“What they want to achieve is to have elections without an opponent and to scare people from Athens to come and vote,” he told BIRN.
He described the vote-buying allegations as “a joke” and alleged that “Rama has spent a lot of money on the elections.”
Meanwhile the Greek Minister of Civil Protection, Takis Theodorikakos, spoke with his Albanian counterpart, Beldar Cuci, to request the immediate release of Beleri, Greek media reported.
Despite initial information from Greek media that Beleri had been temporarily released, the Athenian Macedonian News Agency reported that he is still in custody at Vlora police station.
Last month Albanian media also published allegations of vote-buying ahead of the local polls. Opposition activists in a municipality in remote northern Albania accused Rama’s ruling Socialists of using state aid packages for vote-buying purposes.
Vote-buying is a major concern in Albanian elections. Prosecutors and courts have often proved unwilling or unable to investigate opposition claims, prompting the opposition to carry out what it calls its own “inspections”.
But in one case in 2021, an opposition attempt to intervene ended up in a shootout and a murder. The police’s image as a politically independent agency was also tarnished because they failed to stop organized crime figures canvasing for the Socialist Party.
According to the last census, Greeks form the largest minority in Albania, making up 0.9 per cent of the total population.
Source: Balkan Insight