ATHENS – The continued detention of Fredi Beleri, an ethnic Greek elected Mayor of the Albanian seaside town of Himare, has seen Greece withdrawing its support for the country’s European Union access process.
That won’t change unless he’s released, Greece’s New Democracy government said in a letter filed with the European Council that represents the heads of state of the 27 member states, through their ambassadors.
That stated Greece “expects Albania to take specific and immediate measures as well for the assumption of Mr. Beleri’s duties, as well as to respect his right to a just trial and the principle of presumption of innocence.”
Beleri has been held without charges on suspicion of ballot fraud since May – which he denied and said was a ruse to keep him from taking office so that associates of Prime Minister Edi Rama could benefit.
Several appeals for release have been rejected by the courts and while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier said he would not try to intervene that the case showed Beleri being held wrongly.
“His arrest raises serious concerns, including discriminatory practice against a member of an ethnic minority that is protected by international law. Mr. Beleri continues to be detained until today, for nearly seven months, and he has thus been prevented from exercising his political right as elected Mayor to assume his duties,” the Greek statement said.
Mitsotakis earlier said the case was so sour and suspect that if Beleri weren’t allowed to take office that Greece could thwart Albania’s EU negotiations, a move which has now begun.
That effectively blocks the opening round of accession talks for Albania that would have reviewed judicial authority and rights, freedom and security, public procurement, statistics and financial control, which likely would prove difficult for Albania and its history of corruption.
The EU made public a progress report on EU candidate countries that referred to the complications between Greece and Albania over the Beleri case that threatens to derail Albania’s prospects of one day joining.
Beleri, who remains jailed on remand in a Durres prison since May, said in an interview with Greece’s SKAI radio earlier in November that, “The rule of law does not function in Albania”.
He said that on Dec. 4, after six months of inaction, there will be an examination of his petition to the special court on whether he can be sworn in as Mayor, an office to which he was elected, while he noted that the law is clear on this point.
“When someone has not been convicted and there is no final court ruling, he can be sworn in,” he stated, adding that two other mayors facing the same charges have assumed their duties, even though there are videos and eyewitness testimonies in those two cases. “One sole witness admitted to receiving 7,000 euros, while the chief of Himare police was promoted,” he also added.
Beleri referred to the political scene in Albania stating the “main opposition can’t perform its duties in parliament” and that “there is a witch hunt on the government’s side. Anyone who is not to the liking of Edi Rama may be prosecuted at any time. There is no equality in Albania”.