On May 19, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, issued the following Press Statement titled Public Designation of Albanian Sali Berisha Due to Involvement in Significant Corruption:
“Today, I am announcing the public designation of Sali Berisha, a former President of Albania, former Prime Minister of Albania, and former Member of Parliament of Albania, due to his involvement in significant corruption. In his official capacity as Prime Minister of Albania in particular, Berisha was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes, including 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. Furthermore, his 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. 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.
This designation is made under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021. In addition to Berisha, I am publicly designating his spouse, Liri Berisha, his son, Shkelzen Berisha, and his daughter, Argita Berisha Malltezi. These individuals are ineligible to travel to the United States.
This designation reaffirms the U.S. commitment to supporting political reforms key to Albania’s democratic institutions. The United States continues to stand with the people of Albania. The Department will continue to use authorities like this to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally.”
The announcement follows similar designations targeting corruption of public officials such as the former prosecutor general of the Slovak Republic and former government office holder of Ukraine, that were issued by the Secretary of State respectively in February and March.
The next day, the Deputy U.S Secretary of State for Europe, Matthew Palmer stated for the Voice of America that public declaration of foreign personalities from the US Secretary of State, for involvement in corruption is one of the methods that the US uses to fight corruption. When asked regarding the time of the announcement for the former president Sali Berisha, Palmer said that the time of the announcement isn’t of particular importance.
“I wouldn’t attach any importance to the moment, but what is important is the seriousness, through which the U.S fights the issue of public corruption. This is a testimony of our commitment to use any instruments available to us, including sanctions if needed, with the goal of strengthening the war against public corruption and to make sure that there is accountability for those that abuse the public’s trust,” said Palmer.
Palmer also added that the former PM Berisha abused his power and the public’s trust in order to make himself and his family members richer, as well as his political allies and supporters.
“The United States take the issue of public corruption very seriously,” said Palmer.
The Deputy Secretary of State said that this is one of the instruments that the US uses to fight public corruption.
Asked about the decision to designate former PM Sali Berisha “persona non-grata” by the US Department of State, Ambassador Yuri Kim reiterated her statement that “no one is above the law”.
“I have nothing further to add beyond what the Secretary of State has said”, Ambassador Kim said, as she was also asked about her role in the decision.
“A lot of that is related to democracy and the rule of law. You have seen significant developments there as well. Just yesterday, and the day before you have seen significant developments. These are positive developments that should continue”, added Ambassador Kim.
According to the US ambassador, the American and Albanian people should cooperate in order for the country to become a place where “law is above all” and to bring an end to impunity.
Ambassador Yuri Kim conveyed a message “Albania is changing. Albania is a NATO ally. Albania will be a member of the EU. Albania is an ally and a friend of the United States. The rule of law must prevail. It should be a clean and rich country”.
AP reports that “In response, Berisha deplored Blinken’s accusations and urged the U.S. administration or anyone in the world “to make public any proof or document” that supports the U.S. sanctions. Berisha’s successor as leader of the Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, also called “for full transparency on any proof or document” linked to the U.S. decision. He described Berisha as the Albanian leader who made “the most distinguished contribution to the country’s development and strengthening of democracy.”
Sali Berisha was the first leader of the center-right Democratic Party, which was created in December 1990 after a student protest ousted Albania’s communist regime. Berisha, 76, served as Albania’s president from 1992 to 1997. Following the 2005 election win by the Democratic party, Berisha became prime minister for two terms until 2013. Since then, he has been a member of parliament, representing the opposition party, most recently winning reelection last month.
At a press conference yesterday in Tirana, Berisha said that he has “directed his lawyer, from a neutral and well-respected country, namely France, to file a defamation suit against Mr. Blinken with the Paris Court of Corrections.”
As reported, Sali Berisha is Albania’s fourth top official to be barred from entering the United States because of alleged corruption involvement, following former prosecutor general Adriatik Llalla, former lawmaker Tom Doshi and Vangjush Dako, former mayor in the western port city of Durres. 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.
The above content includes the full Press Statement published by the US Secretary of State, statements made to reporters and quotes by cited news reports.