Ex-prime minister, president, and current leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha has been designated persona non-grata by the United Kingdom, a year after the US gave him the same designation.
On Thursday, the British envoy to the Western Balkans, Sir Stuart Peach, said a number of Albanian citizens had been sanctioned for their involvement in organised crime and corruption without revealing names. On Friday, Berisha himself revealed that he was one of those facing sanctions.
“I was informed by a letter that the Home Secretary has made the decision not to allow my entry into the UK,” he said.
According to his statement, the grounds laid down by the UK include having a clear connection to organised crime and crime groups who pose a risk to public safety in the UK and Albania and that he is willing to use them to advance his political ambitions.
The second reason is corruption and enrichment of those around him, including protecting individuals involved in organised crime.
He said that while the letter is confidential, he decided to publish it “for the Albanian citizens, before whom I have always been true in good and evil”.
Berisha then denied the claims made by the UK, calling them “slander for the interests of the same group which also sponsored Secretary Blinken’s decision, based on slander and corrupt lobbying of Edi Rama and billionaire George Soros.”
He added there was no basis, the claims are lies, and that it is part of a plan to remove the opposition from Albania completely.
“This aims to keep in power a government, the most corrupt in Europe, which, by violating the vote of the citizens, has restored complete monism in the country and steals and sacrifices Albania and the Albanians, leading the state to bankruptcy in order to buy and keep power,” he said.
The opposition leader added that he has never faced criminal proceedings for any of the allegations made against him.
“For all these defamations, I will consult with experts about the legal steps I will take to protect my honour and dignity and that of my country, as far as I represent it,” he concluded.
While the US declared his wife and children as persona non-grata, the UK has only designated Berisha.
“No one was quoted except me. It was only about corruption”, he declared when asked if his family is also affected by this sanction.
In March 2022, the ex-ambassador to Albania, Duncan Norman, warned that there could be forthcoming sanctions against Albanians involved in criminal activity, including those with political support.
“[We] are stepping up our efforts to disrupt links between politics, business and illicit activity, both around the world and in the Western Balkans. We have designated 27 individuals involved in serious corruption around the world under our Global Anti-Corruption sanctions regime since its launch,” Peach writes in his statement.
According to the statement, the UK will implement a Register of Overseas Entities that will require foreign entities that own property in the UK to reveal their identities in an effort to target Russian asset holdings and those who try to evade sanctions.
“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,” he added.
Peach addressed concerns by the OSCE report that “vote-buying and misuse of public funds continue to be a major problem in Albanian politics” and vowed to back the country’s ongoing judicial reform.