Albania PM Under Fire over Business Ties

Tirana _ The Albanian opposition has restated its demands to hold a extraordinary parliamentary hearing to grill the Albanian Premier Sali Berisha over his ties to Bosnian businessman, Damir Fazlic.

“We don’t give up,” said the head of the Socialist parliamentary group Erion Brace.

“Berisha promised a session when he will be transparent about crime and corruption in this country and he has not shown up, or otherwise has been hiding,” Brace added.

The probe into the business activities of the Bosnian businessman has uncovered an intricate web, involving the family of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha.
 
Prosecutors are looking at a series of transactions relating to the sale of one of Fazlic’s businesses, Crown Acquisitions. This was sold in June 2007 to a Cyprus-based company, Altaria Research Limited, for €1.75 million. However, according to the prosecutor’s office, as it held no assets, it raised suspicions of money laundering.
 
Fazlic worked as a consultant with a US-based company, BG & R, which designed Berisha’s Democratic Party electoral campaign. The Albanian opposition has charged that Berisha and Basha were involved in corrupt deals with Fazlic, by allowing him to sell one of his companies for €1.75 million, with no assets and without paying €520 thousand worth of VAT and income tax.
 
Experts warn that when a company is sold for large sums of money, without holding any assets it raises a red flag for a money laundering operation. Read more: Attacks On Top Prosecutor Anger Albania’s US Ally
 
Berisha, has come under strong US and European Union criticism over alleged attempts to put pressure on the Prosecutor General Ina Rama, who has been investigating corruption.

Rama has been launching probes into the March 15 blast in an Albanian army depot and into corruption in the construction of the new Albania Kosovo highway, which have put her at odds with the centre-right government.
 
Meanwhile, while voicing support for the fight against corruption, Berisha is seeking to draft a new law that regulates the office of the Prosecutor General.
 
The law would strip prosecutors of the right to be protected from a police arrest without a formal indictment and limit their independence by allowing the Ministry of Justice to probe investigations.
 
The bill has come under criticism from interests groups, the opposition and the US, because it limits the independence of the general prosecutor, which is guaranteed by the Albania constitution.  
 
On Saturday in a joint declaration the association of prosecutors, judges, lawyers and public notaries condemned the bill.

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