More than a month after the Albanian High Court acquitted him of corruption charges against him, Socialist Movement for Integration head Ilir Meta comments on his trial.
By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 06/03/12
Albania's former Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta speaks to parliament in Tirana last year. Corruption charges against him were dropped in January. [Reuters]
In an exclusive interview with SETimes, former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ilir Meta of Albania said that the trial against him was transparent, that "he has been convinced from the very start of his innocence."
"The whole thing was a deliberate lot of assembled and edited footage, with the sole purpose of destabilising the country and bringing down the government," Meta said.
On January 16th, the High Court declared Meta innocent of corruption charges regarding a state hydropower station tender. Prosecutors had sought a two-year prison term, alleging that he tried to improperly influence former Economy Minister Dritan Prifti over the tender.
The case was closely followed by the European Commission, which didn’t comment on the outcome, but stressed that the process is going to be part of its next progress report on Albania.
Peter Stano, spokesperson for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, pointed out that "rule of law is one of the 12 priority criteria for Albania to get candidate status."
But Meta -- who also served as prime minister from 1999 to 2002 and now heads the small Socialist Movement for Integration Party (SMI) that is part of Albania's governing coalition -- is convinced that "by seeking a thorough judgment of this case, [I have] set a new standard of democratic behaviour in Albania -- through [my] immediate resignation, deliverance of his parliamentary immunity and through determination to go to the end of judgment of all charges brought against me."
The court ruling was considered "a triumph" within Meta's party.
Edmond Haxhinasto of SMI, who followed Meta as deputy prime minister and foreign minister, described the case as an affair based on a manipulated videotape. He said the High Court was independent and fully loyal to the law.
According to him, this case showed that "the law is above everything."
But for the opposition Socialist Party, the ruling demonstrated only that the High Court is under state control.
In a joint statement on the day the court announced its decision, all members of the Socialist Party presidency expressed their indignation, saying the decision was evidence of Prime Minister Sali Berisha's influence on the court.
But Meta rejects the Socialists accusations, calling them an expression of their own double standards in terms of justice.
"It is evident that when courts take decisions in the interest of the opposition, they are accepted as 'just' and when they don't serve their interests, the courts are labeled as 'captured'. I believe that we have to give up street politics and we have to strengthen the politics of state and legal institutions," Meta told SETimes.
In the days before the trial, Berisha met with Meta twice, stirring both opposition reaction and media attention.
On January 13th, Berisha was at Meta's home for dinner. The day after, the two met again, this time at a hotel in Tirana with Tirana Mayor Lulzim Basha.
The Albanian opposition said these meetings were clearly public pressure against justice.
Meta rejects these suggestions. "We meet with Berisha on a continuous basis and we discuss various issues, but not the decisions of courts. We respect public institutions and their decisions."
As for Albania's EU integration, Meta said the country deserves to get candidate status, and blames the opposition for delaying this process.
"Candidate status has been delayed artificially due to an unconstructive political agenda of the opposition, which most Albanian citizens would wish has now come to an end," he told SETimes.
"The EU will know how to praise Albania for the positive force it represents," he said.