Albanian ex-president banned from UK over alleged links to crime

albanian ex-president banned from uk over alleged links to crime

US president George Bush and Albanian prime minister Sali Berisha on June 10, 2007 - GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP

A former president of Albania has been banned from entering Britain over his alleged links to organised crime.

Sali Berisha, who is currently the country’s opposition leader, was told on Monday that his appeal against his exclusion from the UK on public safety grounds had been rejected.

He will now face a lifetime ban after the Special Immigration Appeals Commission found he had “clear” links to organised crime groups who presented a threat to public safety in the UK and Albania.

The Home Office said he had used the links to boost his political ambitions, and accused him of using his elected positions to engage in corruption and criminal behaviour in order to enrich himself and his inner circle.

He is one of a number of Balkan politicians with alleged links to organised crime who were targeted by a secret Foreign Office and Home Office operation, codenamed Crime State Nexus to stop Albanian crime bosses operating in the UK.

Mr Berisha, 79, faces allegations in Albania that he used his influence while prime minister between 2005 and 2009 to favour his daughter’s husband in the privatisation of state land, which he and his daughter deny.

albanian ex-president banned from uk over alleged links to crime

Former Albanian president and opposition leader Sali Berisha makes a victory salute after casting his vote at a polling station in Tirana on Sunday, 24 June 24, 2001 - ARMANDO BABANI/EPA

He was placed under house arrest in December although prosecutors have not filed any criminal charges.

Britain’s decision to bar Mr Berisha from the country came a year after he was excluded from the United States over alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Mr Berisha appealed against the decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London in March, arguing he was banned from the UK on the basis of unproven false assertions.

Documents pointed to the alleged abuse of power when he was prime minister including the appointment of corrupt officials, interference in Albania’s judicial system to protect subordinates from investigation and judicial proceedings and illegal surveillance of political opponents.

“Internal reporting provides a consistent and clear picture of widespread corruption through Berisha’s period of government, but particularly in the run-up to the 2012 elections. This was used to further his interests, aid his allies and buy political support,” the court was told.

The joint Home Office-Foreign Office operation was set up to weaken the threat posed by organised crime groups (OCGs) and to protect Britain’s interests in the region.

albanian ex-president banned from uk over alleged links to crime

Democratic party and 'Unity for Victory' coalition leader Sali Berisha waits for official results of the Albanian national parliamentary elections, in Tirana, Albania, on June 24, 2001 - ANDREW MEDICHINI/AP

The court was told links between politics and crime in the Western Balkans create a “permissive environment in which serious criminals and OCGs can operate and benefit from the political protection of corrupt politicians from law enforcement activity”.

This political protection provides OCGs with additional routes to launder money and enables them to use Albania as a “safe haven from which to operate”, a Home Office document stated.

In exchange, OCGs will help a politician during elections by buying votes and intimidating voters, it added.

Berisha said in a statement: “There is no evidence or fact for any illegal action.

“I remain convinced that the path of justice that I will continue will serve the truth and will hit transnational corruption in a way that it deserves.”

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