04 November 2008 TiranaÂ – Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha held a two hour long marathon speech on Monday in parliament in a hearing over his ties to Bosnian businessman, Damir Fazlic.
Although Berisha spoke for two hours on what he called â€œthe historic achievements of his government,â€ he did not once discuss his ties to Fazlic or the related accusation of favoritism or money laundering.
After making a resume of his governmentâ€™s achievements that included the independence of Kosovo, the Albanian premier noted that his reform programme had the support of United States President George W. Bush.
Berisha accused the opposition of ties to organised crime and of launching the parliamentary hearing because they were jealous.
According to Berisha his government had made historical improvements to the countryâ€™s economy, had changed its image as hotbed of organised crime, had achieved record results in the war against corruption, improved education, tax collection, and lowered government expenditure.
The premier also challenged the opposition to put a motion for a vote of no confidence against him, pointing out that they did not have the votes to overthrow him. Â
â€œYou donâ€™t have the hormones to take such action,â€ he said,
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 Fazlicâ€™s businesses, Crown Acquisitions. This was sold in June 2007 to a Cyprus-based company, Altaria Research Limited, for â‚¬1.75 million. However, according to the prosecutorâ€™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 Berishaâ€™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 â‚¬1.75 million, with no assets and without paying â‚¬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.
Fazlic has denied this accusation. Both Basha and Berisha have also denied the accusations.
Berisha has also previously rejected opposition accusations and in turn threatened to open the â€œcrime archivesâ€ of the opposition.
â€œMy family does not have any business with Mr Fazlic,â€ Basha said, adding that the accusations were a â€œhysterical campaign.â€
Prosecutor-General Under Pressure
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. Â
On Saturday in a joint declaration the association of prosecutors, judges, lawyers and public notaries condemned the bill.Â
New evidence published in the local media has suggest the current Minister of Justice Enkelej Alibeaj and former Minters Aldo Bumci, a deputy of the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Berisha have been involved in the legal process that paved the way for the demolition process that led to the March 15 blast.
Both deny any allegations of wrongdoing and claim they were just doing their job.