UK blacklists Albanian opposition leader Sali Berisha

UK blacklists Albanian opposition leader Sali Berisha
By bne IntelliNews July 23, 2022

Albanian opposition leader Sali Berisha said on July 22 he has been banned from entering the UK because of alleged links to criminal groups. 

Berisha, a former president and prime minister of Albania, was previously banned from the US, with the State Department saying in 2021 he was involved in “significant corruption”. 

The British embassy in Tirana announced on July 21 it had taken action against several Albanian individuals but did not disclose their names. 

“This week, we took disruptive action against several Albanian individuals with well publicised and documented ties to criminality and corruption. This is the first wave of a set of actions intended to encourage accountability and end impunity. The UK has a range of tools available to disrupt individuals with ties to criminality and corruption, including immigration and economic disruption. The details of these actions may not always be public,” the prime minister's special envoy to the Western Balkans Stuart Peach said in a statement

Berisha issued a detailed statement, posted on his Facebook page, announcing that he had been denied entry to the UK, and denying the accusations against him. 

He said the UK’s accusations against him include links to organised crime groups and criminals that pose a “risk to public safety in Albania and the UK, and that you [Berisha] are willing to use these links to advance your political ambitions”. He claimed the decison was the result of a lobbying campaign against him. 

US ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim commented on Twitter on July 21: “We welcome this important action. Those who have abused the public's trust to enrich themselves & pervert the rule of law  in other words, those who have engaged in significant corruption & undermined democracy  must face justice. No one is above the law.” 

Berisha is now Albania’s main opposition leader, having been re-elected as head of the opposition Democratic Party by an overwhelming majority in May. 

The result marked Berisha’s political comeback nine years after he stepped down as head of the party following its defeat to Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialists back in 2013. 

Berisha has been an important figure in Albanian politics since the first years after the fall of communism. In 1990 he backed student demonstrations calling for a multi-party system. Two years later, he became the first president of Albania who was not a member of the Communist party, serving from 1992 to 1997. 

In 2005, after mass protests brought down Socialist prime minister Fatos Nato, Berisha returned to power as prime minister, serving from 1997 to 2013.

Berisha is a controversial politician who was named persona non grata by the US State Department in May 2021 due to his involvement in “significant corruption”, a statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. 

Along with Berisha, his wife Liri Berisha and children Shkelzen Berisha and Argita Berisha Malltezi were also banned from travelling to the US. 

After Berisha was blacklisted, the Democrats’ then leader Lulzim Basha expelled him from the party’s parliamentary group, after which Berisha launched his campaign to regain control of the party. 

This culminated in a storming of the Democratic Party headquarters by Berisha’s supporters in January. Several hundred people forced their way through the barriers outside the building, smashed windows and forced their way inside. 

After a series of election defeats, Basha eventually stood down after the party’s poor performance in local by-elections in March. Rama’s Socialists won five of the six elections, with the sixth won by a candidate put up by Berisha.

Relations between Albania’s two largest parties —the Socialists and the Democrats — worsened following Berisha’s return. In April, Rama told MPs that he would “cut all relations” with the Democrats if the party reinstated Berisha as its leader, and called Berisha “a dead man”.