Albania Convicts Ethnic Greek Politician Fredi Beleri of Vote-Buying

Fredi Beleri

Albania’s Court Against Corruption and Organised Crime in Tirana on Tuesday convicted Fredi Beleri, the ethnic Greek mayor-elect of the town of Himara, of vote-buying, his lawyer confirmed to media.

After a trial that has angered Greece, which has threatened to block Albania’s EU accession talks if it does not respect Beleri’s rights, the court sentenced the politician to two years in prison.

Asked if Beleri’s legal team will appeal against the decision, his lawyer Eugen Gjyzari responded: “Of course.”

Beleri was arrested two days before local elections in May 2023 on charges of attempting to buy four votes in exchange for cash.

But in his final declaration to the court, Beleri insisted that “the prosecution’s conclusions are lies and political”. He added that “all the prosecution’s allegations were disputed by my lawyers in detail”.

The defence insisted during closing arguments in the trial on February 28 that the procedures used during the investigation of the case were illegal and so the evidence was invalid.

Gjyzari insisted that the prosecutor’s office in Vlora was not empowered to carry out such investigations, which should be done by the Special Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Structure, SPAK instead. He also said that police investigations were carried out before an order was issued by the prosecutor’s office.

Beleri’s defence also claimed the police framed him using an undercover agent to entrap him – a method they have not used in any other case of alleged vote-buying, a phenomenon that is perceived as widespread in Albania.

Gjyzari said that Beleri is bringing a lawsuit against the police chief of Himara and the informer on whose testimony the police based the charges in the case.

“The police followed [Beleri] for four days without prosecution supervision,” Gjyzari said. He also claimed that the two witnesses in the case, brothers Arsen and Avdul Rama, gave contradictory or false statements.

Gjyzari further insisted that the fact that witness Arsen Rama was paid by the police constituted a criminal offence, since an associate of the prosecution cannot be paid. He said that only police informants are paid, not witnesses.

He argued that all the actions of the police and the Vlora prosecutor’s office were aimed at preventing Beleri from winning the local elections in Himara.

Beleri prevented from taking office

Beleri became the mayor-elect of the town of Himara after winning the local polls in May 2023. But since his arrest, he has been held in custody and has been prevented from assuming his mayoral duties.

As a result, the candidate he defeated, from Prime Minister Edi Rama’s ruling Socialist Party, has been doing the job instead.

On January 29, Albania’s Court of Appeals Against Corruption and Organised Crime dismissed a request from Beleri to take the oath of office as mayor of Himara.

The case is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court of Albania, but no date has yet been set for a ruling.

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