The US Embassy in Tirana has reacted to the news that former Prime Minister and President Sali Berisha has filed a defamation lawsuit against US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Providing a comment to BalkanWeb, the US Embassy said that “following President Biden’s executive order, Secretary Blinken’s announcement, and Ambassador Kim’s statements to the media, the US position is clear and unchanged: The fight against corruption is of paramount interest. We will use all the tools at our disposal to tackle corruption and impunity.”
The lawsuit, filed by Berisha, comes after a May announcement that he and his family are persona non grata and are banned from entering the United States.
Blinken said that this was due to a “corrupt act” that “undermined democracy in Albania”. A statement released at the time added:
“Berisha was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes, including using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members at the expense of the Albanian public’s confidence in their government institutions and public officials.”
Berisha has not been convicted of a crime in Albania, and is not believed to be under investigation at the moment.
Last week, US Ambassador Yuri Kim pressured Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha to dismiss Berisha from the party’s parliamentary group before the new parliament reconvenes in September.
On Friday, after a meeting at the PD headquarters with Basha, Kim told journalists that the opposition leader is responsible for making sure the party will enter parliament “accompanied by members [of parliament] who are worthy of representing Albania.”
“It would be a historic irony but also a tragedy for this country, not just the party if the party were to eat grass for the sake of one man’s personal interest,” Kim stated, after praising the PD’s role in taking down the communist regime in Albania in the early ‘90s.
The “grass-eating” metaphor mirrors a statement made by Albania’s former communist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1961, at a time when the Soviet Union was cutting economic aid to his regime and Albania fell into isolation. The phrase was then used as communist propaganda.
Berisha also announced he will enter parliament in September.
“There is no force on earth, except God, to prevent me from exercising the mission I was trusted with by Albanian voters. I will enter parliament, according to Albanian voters’ will. I have no other parliamentary group apart from that of the PD. Even if only one [deputy] remains there, that will be me.”
Asked whether elected members of parliament from the PD could demand his departure from the party, Berisha warned he would then rally opposition supporters against party leadership and government.
“I would fight against any decision that would opt for dictated orders instead of transparency, in alliance with every democrat and every Albanian in a final battle against this regime. I could do this from within the PD,” Berisha stated.