TIRANA, Albania (AP) — An Albanian court on Friday sentenced a former interior minister to more than three years in prison for abuse of office over ties to a criminal drug trafficking network.
Saimir Tahiri was sentenced three years and four months imprisonment.
Judge Engert Pellumbi of the Special Appeals Court for Corruption and Organized Crime said that Tahiri had benefited from "unfair services and gain and at the same time, with his abuse of post, he has abused legal interests.”
Tahiri said after the sentencing that he was innocent.
“I am morally calm. I have not violated the law. I have loved every day of my job,” he said on Facebook. “I am happy I have committed my job in the best possible way. It is simply injustice.”
Prosecutors had tied Tahiri’s case to two brothers who were related to Tahiri. They were arrested or jailed for drug trafficking in Italy and Albania.
Pellumbi said the prosecutors proved their case with documented evidence. Tahiri was ordered to start serving his jail term.
Tahiri didn't react to the journalists in the courtroom, only rushing to make a phone call.
Tahiri’s lawyer, Maksim Haxhiaj, said they would appeal the verdict at the Supreme Court, considering it as a “juridical nonsense.”
“The verdict was just to stain Tahiri,” he said.
In September 2019, Tahiri was sentenced to three years of probation for abuse of office and was acquitted of charges of involvement in drug trafficking.
Last year, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial because of irregular procedures taken by judges and prosecutors.
Tahiri, who served as interior minister during 2013-2017, resigned as a lawmaker with the governing Socialist Party in May 2018 and was briefly held under house arrest.
Albania was once known as a European crossroads for marijuana trafficking, but there are now more cases involving the trafficking of heroin and cocaine to other European countries.
Fighting corruption has been a major problem in post-communist Albania, strongly affecting the country’s democratic, economic and social development.
“We urge judicial institutions to continue to demonstrate that no one — regardless of party, position, or wealth — is above the law. No more impunity,” U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim tweeted.
The embassy had closely followed the trial.