News & Analysis

Albanian interior minister resigns

Albania’s Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj resigned from his post on October 27, with no explanation provided for his departure. Edi Rama, the country’s prime minister, has nominated his security advisor, Aleksander Lleshi, for the vacant position.

The departure of Mr Xhafaj follows a large-scale police operation against four interlinked groups of drug-trafficking suspects. The leak of the intercepted conversations and snippets from police investigation files by the opposition Democratic party reveal there have been two alleged cases where suspected criminals were involved in vote-buying practices for the ruling Socialist party.

The opposition has criticised the prosecution service for understating the links between crime gangs and the Socialist party, as well as for inappropriate investigation procedures. The ruling party was also attacked for collaborating with criminals, through which it secured votes in the last election.

The resignation of Mr Xhafaj has been viewed as a success for the opposition who have led a campaign against him after his brother, Agron Xhafaj, was convicted in Italy for engaging in drug dealing. MPs from the Democratic party recently made public an intercepted conversation, which appears to include Mr Xhafaj’s brother in conversation with a criminal.

Taulant Balla, the head of parliamentary group of the Socialist party, has said that the opposition’s attack on Mr Xhafaj is aimed at derailing Albania’s EU integration, just as EU leaders are expected to open membership negotiations with the country.

Despite acknowledging the verdict of the Italian court which sentenced his brother to seven years in jail for drug dealing, Mr Xhafaj claimed that what his brother did 15 years ago should not reflect poorly on him.

Mr Xhafaj has been a controversial political figure in Albania for some time, continuously being accused of violating human rights in the 1980s as well as allegedly maintaining links to organised criminal groups through his brother.