Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias brought up the issue of the arrest of the winning candidate of the “Together We Win” coalition for Himara, Fredi Beleri at the EU Foreign Council in Brussels, also meeting with Albanian counterpart Olta Xhacka, as a Tirana court ruled to keep Beleri in prison before trial.
Beleri, a Greek expatriate, was arrested two days before the 14 May local elections on suspicion of vote buying. The police said he was to be charged with active corruption in elections, something Beleri denies.
Beleri won the vote, although it is not yet known if he will take the mandate as he remains in prison.
His arrest sparked a diplomatic rift between Tirana and Athens with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mistotakis and Foreign Minister saying the move could see Greece block Albania’s EU path.
“On the sidelines of today’s meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, I met with Albania’s counterpart, Olta Xhaçka. During the discussion, the issue related to the elected mayor of Himare Municipality, Fredi Beleri, was also raised,” said Dendias after meeting Xhacka, not revealing any other details of the meeting.
Meanwhile, a Tirana court on Monday ruled he would remain in prison pending trial, while the question of whether he can, or will accept his mandate as mayor into question. He was transferred from Vlora detention centre to a prison in Tirana on Sunday.
The Greek Foreign Ministry reacted to the news.
“The extension of the detention of Fredi Beleri, already elected Mayor of Himara Municipality, offends the sense of justice of the public and the European perception of the rule of law”, they said in a statement.
Dendias on Friday added he would raise the matter with the Council of Foreign Affairs of the EU on Monday and asked again for Beleri’s release.
On Monday, prior to the meeting, Dendias repeated his call.
“Today we will discuss the issue of the Western Balkans with our colleagues in the Council. Thus, I will have the opportunity to clearly raise the issue of the ban of the elected mayor of the Himara Municipality, Fredi Beleri. I will also meet with my Albanian counterpart. I think it will be a very interesting conversation”, said Dendias on Twitter.
According to evidence leaked to Albanian media, wiretapping revealed Beleri and his plan for buying local election votes. It is alleged a person provided him with a list of names of people who would vote for him if he gave them 5000 Lek (€45). He allegedly then promised to give the person passing him the list of names around €300.
The file states that the money was not handed over by Beleri but by a third person who met the intermediary in a bar in Himara, exchanging the money in the toilets.
Mitsotakis said on Sunday that the behaviour of the Albanian authorities was at the expense of EU unity and said that if it continues, it will not only impact bilateral relations but Albania’s EU aspirations.
“I will not accept such behaviour at the expense of the Greeks. It is unacceptable and unimaginable what happened to Fredi Beleri,” he said.
The Greek premier added, “Albania should know very well that if such a policy continues, it will affect our bilateral relations and its path towards the EU,” he added.
(Alice Taylor | Exit.al)
Read more with EURACTIV
Gabriel set to form Bulgarian government with her party’s arch foesFormer EU commissioner Mariya Gabriel is close to forming a new Bulgarian government as part of a complex political agreement with her centre-right GERB party’s arch-foes – the reformist ‘We continue the change’ party of former prime minister Kiril Petkov.