Albania election authority removes ethnic Greek mayor for corruption conviction News
Albania election authority removes ethnic Greek mayor for corruption conviction

The Central Election Commission of Albania (CEC) removed Alfred Beleri, the ethic Greek Mayor of Himara, from his position on Friday following his imprisonment on charges of vote-buying during the 2023 local elections.

The Central Election Commission of Albania made the move during its latest session by invoking Law 138/2015, which stipulates that the verification of candidate eligibility conditions by the Central Election Commission is based solely on the self-declaration data provided at the time of candidacy submission.

According to the commission, the law aims to safeguard public trust in elected state bodies, independent institutions and public administration. The commission argued that Article 10 of the law mandates it to invalidate mayoral seats where post-election checks reveal conditions of ineligibility or disqualification in accordance with electoral procedures.

Accordingly, the commission stated that Beleri has the right to appeal this decision to the Appeals and Sanctions Commission within 30 days from its announcement.

During the meeting, Beleri’s lawyer argued that the CEC lacked the authority to revoke his mayoral term since he had not yet begun his duties. The head of the Commission, Ilirjan Celibashi, countered this assertion on the grounds that CEC’s jurisdiction, particularly in cases involving candidates convicted of criminal offenses, as under the decriminalization law, people convicted of certain crimes are not permitted to hold public office.

Ivi Kaso, the legal representative of “Bashkë Fitojmë,” the opposition coalition under which Beleri ran for mayor of Himarë, asserted that the Central Commission is in flagrant violation of Law 138/2015. According to him, circumstances arising after the submission of the self-declaration form are not within the competence of the Central Election Commission.

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement expressing concern following the decision. According to the Ministry, the decision is unprecedented concerning violations of fundamental principles of the rule of law, particularly the infringement on Beleri’s presumption of innocence, integrity of the evidentiary process, prevention of his swearing-in, the severity of the imposed penalties, and the unauthorized governance of Himarë Municipality in the past year.

Additionally, the Ministry reiterated Albania’s responsibility to ensure Beleri’s participation as a newly elected member of the European Parliament, particularly for the upcoming Plenary Session starting on July 16 in Strasbourg.

Greece has repeatedly threatened to hinder Albania’s EU accession process after Beleri’s arrest, justifying it with concerns over significant setbacks in upholding the rule of law. Prime Minister Mitsotakis noted last year that while Albania’s judiciary is independent and it is not under his right to interfere with their jurisdiction, Fredi Beleri has the right to take an oath even while in pre-trial detention, as guaranteed by Albanian law.

In March 2024, Fredi Beleris was convicted by Albania’s Court Against Corruption and Organized Crime in Tirana, following his election in the coastal town of Himara in May 2023. His arrest, occurring just two days before the election results came in,  followed by the announcement of early local elections in the municipality this year, was widely viewed as politically motivated and driven by business interests in the seaside hotel industry, potentially aimed at securing land for government-affiliated partners.