US sanctions Albania ex-leader Sali Berisha over corruption

AP International News

FILE – In this Wednesday, June 26, 2013 file photo, Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party concedes defeat in front of his supporters at the party headquarters in Tirana. The United States has sanctioned former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, barring him from entering the country after being accused of involvement in “significant corruption.” Berisha, 76, who was also president in the 1990s, is now a lawmaker in the opposition Democratic Party. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that Berisha “was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes.” (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina, File)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The United States on Wednesday sanctioned former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, barring him from entering the country after being accused of involvement in “significant corruption.”

Berisha, 76, who was also president in the 1990s, is now a lawmaker in the opposition Democratic Party.

He “was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Berisha was also accused of “using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members at the expense of the Albanian public’s confidence in their government institutions and public officials,” Blinken said.

The statement added that Berisha’s “own rhetoric demonstrates he is willing to protect himself, his family members, and his political allies at the expense of independent investigations, anticorruption efforts, and accountability measures.”

The U.S. also is barring entry to Berisha’s wife and two children. There was no immediate reaction from Berisha or the Democratic Party.

Berisha became the first leader of the main opposition center-right Democratic Party, which was created in December 1990 after a student protest ousted the former communist regime.

Berisha was Albania’s first post-communist president from 1992 until 1997 when a pyramid scheme in which many Albanians lost their life savings took the country to the brink of anarchy.

The Democratic Party won the 2005 election and Berisha became prime minister for two terms until 2013. Since then, he has been a lawmaker and was reelected in the April 25 parliamentary election.

Fighting corruption has been post-communist Albania’s Achille’s heel, which has strongly affected the country’s democratic, economic and social development.

An essential reform of the judiciary was approved in 2016 after direct involvement from Washington and the European Union. Many judges and prosecutors have been dismissed for alleged corruption and illegally earning property and money.

“With this designation, I am reaffirming the need for accountability and transparency in Albania’s democratic institutions, government processes, and the actions of Albanian public officials,” Blinken said of the sanctions against Berisha.

Washington repeated its support to “political reforms key to Albania’s democratic institutions,” pledging that the U.S. State Department would continue to use measures like this to promote accountability for corrupt officials in the region and globally.

Albania is expecting to launch an inter-governmental conference with the EU, which the country hopes to join one day.

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Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini

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