Albanian Justice Minister Ylli Manjani has accused the government of corruption after he was unexpectedly sacked by Prime Minister Edi Rama on January 30.
Manjani was dismissed at a time when Albania is implementing the crucial judicial reforms needed for the country to advance in its European Union integration process. Tirana is hoping to open its first EU negotiating chapters this year.
His sacking also highlights the growing divisions between his party, the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), and the senior ruling Socialist Party led by Rama.
Rumours that Manjani could be facing the sack started on January 29, when the minister was accused by the Socialist Party of making critical statements about its officials.
A brief government statement says only that Rama proposed replacing Manjani with Petrit Vasili, a fellow member of the LSI.
However, local news agency ATA quotes a letter on Manjani's dismissal signed by Rama, stating that the sacking was aimed at “improving the quality of the government, the better coordination in the parliament, and advancing the judicial reforms.”
Manjani responded angrily to the prime minister’s move. On January 30, he called a news conference where he used harsh language against the government, which he accused of involvement in crime and corruption.
In a lengthy statement also published on his Facebook page, Manjani claimed he had been sacked after criticising the government’s approach to tackling cannabis cultivation and its record on fighting corruption.
The minister slammed the working of the government, which he described as “completely anti-Constitutional”, saying that ministers had been sidelined and prevented from speaking at meetings.
He also launched a personal attack on several ministers, claiming they had taken vacations with their mistresses in a hotel owned by Klement Balili, dubbed the “Drug Baron”, in a period when Balili was wanted for international drug trafficking
This is not the first time allegations of links between Balili and the Socialists have been made. In May 2016, Albanian’s main opposition Democratic Party accused Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri of protecting Balili.
According to Manjani, the Albanian government is in a “state of capture” and he is “happy to be out of it”.
Manjani was appointed minister of justice in November 2015 to intensify the judicial reforms required by the EU. He replaced Nasip Naco, who unexpectedly resigned at the time.
He has headed the ministry during a critical time, as Tirana has pushed ahead with judicial reforms despite strong opposition. The Albanian parliament adopted constitutional changes on July 21 that opened the way for the reforms. The government is now preparing a second package of laws as part of the reform process.
His likely replacement Petrit Vasili was minister of health between 2009 and 2012 in the government of former prime minister and Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha.
President Bujar Nishani is expected to sign a decree approving Manjani's removal in the near future.