Albanian authorities arrested two former MPs from the governing Socialist Party over accusations of corruption and organised crime amid a major crackdown on alleged drug traffickers.
Albanian police arrested former Socialist Party MPs Arben Ndoka and Arben Cuko plus several other people in a series of operations against organised crime suspects on Sunday, with Prime Minister Edi Rama stating that no one is above the law.
Under pressure at home and from the EU and US to do more in the fight against crime and corruption, police arrested several suspected drug smugglers in the town of Shijak, central Albania.
They also conducted a search in the southern town of Saranda for wanted businessman Klemend Balili, who has had a Greek arrest warrant out against him since May 2016.
Former MP Arben Ndoka was arrested for alleged involvement in what police said was a criminal group engaged in falsification of documents for the purpose of appropriating lucrative state-owned land in coastal areas of the region of Lezhe.
Ndoka was held after an investigation conducted by the Serious Crime Prosecutor’s Office.
He was previously convicted of human trafficking in Italy in 2004 and sentenced to seven years in jail.
However, Albanian courts cut his sentence so he was able to regain his freedom after three years and became a state official under the Democratic Party administration, and later a Socialist Party MP.
His short stint as an MP between 2014 and 2015 caused trouble for the Prime Minister Rama as he became an easy target for the opposition claim of links between the ruling Socialists and organised crime.
Under pressure, Ndoka resigned in September 2015 although he claimed he was innocent of the Italian crime.
An investigation into his declared assets of about 1.5 million euros failed to result in any charges. In December 2017, his brother was shot in a mafia-style murder in his home town of Lezhe.
Arben Cuku, another former Socialist Party MP, was also arrested on Sunday, accused of taking bribes during his short stint as head of the General Directorate of the Penitentiary Service. He was discharged from duty last September.
Local media reported that police are also looking for Lulzim Berisha, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 but then freed in December 2016 after a series of controversial court rulings.
Commenting on the arrest of Cuku case, Prime Minister Rama said: “I am sorry for A. Cuko, however, for us there are not two stances regarding the law.”
The opposition Democratic Party did not applaud the arrests, however.
Democratic Party MP Edi Paloka said that “Rama used [the suspects] as much as he could and now is using them again to deflect attention from ‘super-scandals’ to save himself”.