TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The United States on Wednesday sanctioned former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha for alleged “significant corruption” and barred him and his wife and children from entering the U.S.
Berisha, 76, who also served as Albania's president from 1992 to 1997, is currently a lawmaker representing the opposition Democratic Party.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that during Berisha's 2005-2013 tenure as prime minister, the politician “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.”
The statement alleged that Berisha’s “own rhetoric demonstrates he is willing to protect himself, his family members, and his political allies at the expense of independent investigations, anticorruption efforts, and accountability measures.”
In response, Berisha deplored Blinken's accusations and urged the U.S. administration or anyone in the world “to make public any proof or document” that supports the U.S. sanctions.
Berisha's successor as leader of the Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, also called “for full transparency on any proof or document" linked to the U.S. decision. He described Berisha as the Albanian leader who made “the most distinguished contribution to the country’s development and strengthening of democracy.”
Berisha was the first leader of the center-right Democratic Party, which was created in December 1990 after a student protest ousted Albania's communist regime.
He was elected as Albania’s second post-communist president in 1992. During his presidency, a pyramid scheme in which many Albanians lost their life savings took the country to the brink of anarchy.
The Democratic Party won the 2005 election and Berisha became prime minister for two terms until 2013. Since then, he has been a member of parliament, most recently winning reelection last month.
Berisha is Albania's fourth top official to be barred from entering the United States because of alleged corruption involvement, following former prosecutor general Adriatik Llalla, former lawmaker Tom Doshi and Vangjush Dako, former mayor in the western port city of Durres.
Fighting corruption has been post-communist Albania’s Achille’s heel, strongly affecting the country's democratic, economic and social development.
“Former President of Albania Sali Berisha’s corrupt acts undermined democracy in Albania,” Blinken tweeted Wednesday.
An essential reform of the judiciary was approved in 2016 after direct involvement from Washington and the European Union. Many judges and prosecutors have been dismissed for alleged corruption and illegally earning property and money.
“With this designation, I am reaffirming the need for accountability and transparency in Albania’s democratic institutions, government processes, and the actions of Albanian public officials,” Blinken said of the sanctions against Berisha.
This story has been corrected to show that Berisha was Albania's second president after the fall of communism, not the first.
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Llazar Semini, The Associated Press