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Albania Hands Former Minister Probation After Conviction On Lesser Charges

Former Albanian Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri enters a court in Tirana in June.

An Albanian court has found former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri guilty of abuse of office but found him innocent of drug-trafficking charges.

The Tirana Special Crime Court on September 19 sentenced Tahiri, 49, to three years and four months in prison, but converted the sentence to probation, meaning he will not be incarcerated.

He will not be allowed to hold public positions while on probation.

The court rejected prosecutors' allegations that Tahiri had ties to a crime network suspected of trafficking large amounts of marijuana.

Prosecutors asked that Tahiri, once one of the closest allies of Prime Minister Edi Rama, be jailed for 12 years on charges of corruption, drug trafficking, and being part of a criminal group.

"The court said I am not a criminal or a drug trafficker, and am not part of a criminal group, but found me guilty of abuse of office because I have used the same car with some cousins," Tahiri told reporters after the court ruling.

Tahiri, who was interior minister in 2013-17, was briefly held under house arrest after resigning as a governing Socialist Party lawmaker in May 2018.

Albania has attempted to tackle widespread corruption and drug trafficking with an eye on eventually joining the European Union.

Albania, along with North Macedonia, is hoping to begin EU accession talks before the end of 2019, but some countries, including France, have expressed concerns about the two countries' ability to meet EU governmental and rule-of-law standards.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters