The Tirana Appeals Court has accepted to review a court case that recognized Sali Berisha movement’s decisions to topple the Democratic Party leadership. Shortly before the appeal’s court released its verdict, Berisha accused US Ambassador Yuri Kim of interfering in the justice system to influence today’s decision.
Judge Blerina Muca accepted an appeal by Enkelejd Alibeaj filed in his capacity as PD deputy chair, demanding the court to repeal a previous court decision or remand the case under a different panel of judges at the first instance court.
On March 25, Judge Agron Zhukri had approved the new PD statuses passed by the PD National Assembly on December 11, which was called by the movement led by Sali Berisha. This also meant that their decision to dismiss all party leadership, including former chair Luzim Basha, was valid.
In a press statement before the court decision was made public, Berisha accused the US Ambassador of direct interference in the case.
“Last week I was informed from three sources that the Governor [Berisha’s slur for Ambassador Yuri Kim] has been having meetings regarding the judicial process recently. I call on the US government to stop its representative’s interference in Albania’s judicial processes,” Berisha stated.
He added that he was willing to present US authorities with the evidence from his sources but refused to make them public.
Responding to Berisha’s accusations after the publication of the court decision, Ambassador Kim admitted having urged judges and prosecutors to do their job correctly, while hinting they had received threats and intimidation from Berisha.
“If ‘interfering in the judicial process’ means encouraging judges and prosecutors to do their jobs despite threats or inducements, making clear the US will continue to support implementation of justice reform in Albania, underlining that no one is above the law, and urging that all of us must do our part to fight against corruption and impunity, then YES, the US has done and will continue to do exactly that – because the fight against corruption and efforts to undermine democracy constitute a core US national security interest,” Ambassador Kim tweeted.
From a legal viewpoint, today’s appeals decision brings the main opposition party back to uncertainty over who leads it.
The US government sanctioned Berisha over corruption last year, and pressured the then-PD leader Lulzim Basha to exclude him from the party’s parliamentary group. Berisha denied corruption allegations and filed a court case in France over slander against US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The exclusion from the party he himself founded during the collapse of the communist regime in 1990 prompted Berisha to launch a successful national movement demanding Basha’s removal. In addition, he claimed that billionaire George Soros had lobbied the US State Department at the request of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to have him designated over corruption. Rama denies the allegations.
Despite overwhelming support among party members to dismiss the previous leadership, change the statuses, and organize new leadership elections, – previously recognized by the court but returned for review today, – Berisha’s intra-party movement is experiencing setbacks that prevent it from taking over the party.
It remains to be seen how today’s court decision will influence the already announced second National Assembly of April 30, which is expected to set the way for the election of the new PD leader, in which Berisha is expected to run and win.