Persona non grata without single fact or piece of evidence?

Dr. Sali Berisha,

Former President & Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania 

International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)  from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East, Balkans and also around the world. Dr. Sali Berisha is former President & Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania. In his explanatory note entitled “Persona non grata without single fact or piece of evidence?” he presents his view on the decision by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken from May 19, 2021 for the designation persona ‘non grata’ on grounds of significant corruption.

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Explanatory Note

Regarding the decision of May 19, 2021 of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the designation persona ‘non grata’ of Sali Berisha, my wife Liri Berisha, my daughter Argita and my son Shkelzen, on grounds of significant corruption; I declare at the fullest of my responsibility that this unexpected decision against my family and myself – eight years after not holding any public office and after resigning from any political leadership position – is absolutely groundless and purely based on the misinformation provided by the vindictive and slanderous lobbying power of Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, and his close friend and protector, billionaire George Soros.

Through this note, I would also like to inform you as follows:

I can assure you that throughout my 30-year long career in politics, despite numerous defamations and accusations from my opponents, no local or foreign individual or institution has filed a complaint with the General Attorney’s office. Nor has presented a single fact or piece of evidence against my family or myself to show any abuse of public funds or any other form of corruption.

As far as my family is concerned, I would like to emphasise the fact that my wife, Liri Berisha has spent her entire medical career as a paediatrician serving in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Tirana. Upon retiring, she has administered the Albanian Children Foundation and the Mother Theresa Foundation for the last 14 years, without any salary or financial remuneration. Under the auspices of ‘Autism Speaks Foundation’ based in New York City, she has founded the ‘Regional Autism Centre of Excellence’ to help autistic children from Tirana and countrywide.

For her commitment and dedicated work Liri Berisha was honoured with the “Global Autism Award” by Autism Speaks and with the “Woman of the Year” award in 2012 by the Women’s Information Network (WIN).

I would like to highlight that the only possessions of my wife and myself are: (i) an apartment of 124 square meters (1335 sq. ft.), which is only 34 square meters (366 sq. ft.) larger than the one we had during the communist regime, and (ii) approximately EUR 100,000 worth of savings, derived from 53 years of us both working as medical doctors and myself serving in the Albanian government.

As far as my children are concerned, they have always strictly abided by the law. The source of their income is easily verifiable as it is declared to the Agency of Declaration of Assets of High Officials as well as the tax and revenue agencies, before and as well as during the last eight consecutive years of the administration of Prime Minister Edi Rama.

To date, my children have never gained a single penny from any public funds or have ever been or put under investigation for corruption by any administration, including the current one, General Attorney’s office, or any foreign entity.

In my letter of May 19, 2021 to US Secretary Blinken, I write and urge him to: “…to make public every fact and document that your administration, or anyone in the world, may possess that may support the merit of your claims against myself and my family.”

On May 22, an US State Department spokesperson stated to a daily Albanian newspaper the following: “The information regarding the decision of the Secretary of State was obtained from reports of local, regional, international NGOs, the media reports and the Albanian government anti-corruption investigations.”

As such, it seems the decision was based on: reports from NGOs – all of which are funded by George Soros, with whom I have a long history of strong objections and disagreements; media reports – all of which in Albania are controlled by the current government and its proxies; and Albania’s Government anti-corruption investigations – a government that ranked as one of the most corrupt governments in Europe.

As an example, of their inventions I would like to bring to your attention a situation that took place in 2009. At the time, the World Bank published a report based on slander from an NGO and a media outlet, both sponsored by Soros. The World Bank, being a serious institution, after verifying everything in-situ, felt obliged to submit a public apology for its earlier slander-based report and did so in January 2010 through its Vice President Philip Le Huoerou during a personal visit to Tirana.

Throughout the years leading my government, 2005-2013 my unchanging motto has always been the fight against corruption and organized crime. However, I am fully aware that during those years, we were not able to fully eradicate it and there has been corruption going on in the country; but there was always a strong will and determination to fighting it and to pushing deep reforms against it.

The success of such fight against corruption and organized crime was highly appreciated by US Government and the Bush administration, as well as by Secretary of State Clinton, and even Mr. Blinken himself while serving as an advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden.

The success of such fight against both corruption and organized crime was crucial to the development of Albania and made possible some great achievements for my country. It made possible for Albania to double the revenues and move up in a real Quantum Leap from the group of poor countries to the group of high-middle income countries, reach the threshold of MCAM and also quadruple its foreign investments; to become a full member of NATO; to move forward in the European Integration process, sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU and lift the Schengen Visa regime for all citizens; to meet all the conditions for the status of the EU Candidate Country and transforming the road and digital infrastructures and many more crucial achievements important for the country.

In the last 30 years – ever since the historic visit of the US Secretary of State James Baker to Tirana in June 1991 after the fall of communism, first as the leader of the first opposition party and later in the capacity of President of the Republic as well as Prime Minister, I have always to the best of my abilities done everything to foster and advance the friendliest relations with USA

I am honoured and feel pride in the fact that during those years I have had the opportunity, as President of my country, to be officially received in the White House by both President George H.W. Bush and President W. J. Clinton. Relations between the two countries culminated while I was serving as Prime Minister, in the historic visit of President George W. Bush in Tirana on June 10, 2007 – the first visit of a sitting US President to Albania, and also the visit in 2012 of US Secretary of State Clinton on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Albania’s Independence.

I am a strong believer as well as very grateful of the fact that the United States have helped Albania and the Albanian people more than any other country. As such, throughout my entire political and governmental career during these last three decades, I have never hesitated to stand side by side and to support any decision in the bilateral interest.

Because of strong personal conviction, but also as unbounded gratitude for what the United States have done for my country and for the Albanian people, while in office, I have never hesitated to support and take any decision related to the US global leadership role for security and peace, starting with deployment of the first drones in 1993, continuing with successful operations against terrorist networks, accepting and protecting more Uighur detainees that any other country, to the hosting the MEK Iranian opposition in Albania and the acceptance of the first 220 their representatives, as well as numerous other sensitive and hypersensitive operations.

In matters of security and peace in the Middle East and the world, Albania’s position in the UN General Assembly was always in line with that of the United States. On the other hand, the behaviour of Albanian government today is notably different.

In his decision, Secretary Blinken wrote: “Furthermore, his rhetoric demonstrates he is willing to protect himself, his family members, and his political allies at the expense of independent investigations, anti-corruption efforts, and accountability measures.”

In regard to this, during the years I held office, every request submitted by the Attorney General’s Office to drop the immunity of Cabinet Ministers or MPs was met with no hesitation by my government. Furthermore, at my initiative as Prime Minister in 2012, we removed by law the immunity for corruption cases.

For the last eight years as an opposition MP, I have used my position and my rhetoric to protect the public and national interest, and never in defence of myself or anyone else on corruption investigations, as written without any basis in Secretary Blinken’s decision. Furthermore, the alleged investigations mentioned in the decision never existed.

During the last eight years in opposition, I have supported every initiative against crime and corruption; I have denounced, based on facts and official documents, the connections of the Prime Minister with rampant corruption, his complete silence on the OSCE report of 2014 in which he is accused of 200 million euros hidden in offshore banks, the silence for the undeclared source of funds for the construction of his mansion, as well as for dozens of tenders awarded to his family members. I have opposed the dismissal in violation of the constitution of the Chairman of the Agency for Declaration of Assets of High Officials as soon as she - in accordance with the law - began an investigation on the origin of the funds used by Edi Rama for the construction of his mansion and a five-storey building of his wife and her family. With my rhetoric I have criticized the 15 times increase of secret procurements during these 8 years compared to the period before 2013 and the 6 times increase of the price for public works with the money of Albanian taxpayers compared to those of works done with European Union funds, the lack of open competition in hundreds of tenders, concessions, PPPs as well as government decisions and even laws passed in the parliament adopted for specific interests of drug clans in Albania, as well as and illegal assets and large corruption affairs of hundreds of millions of euros of his ministers and his local government officials. All of these are also featured in serious international reports.

As an opposition MP I have furthermore, denounced publicly and based on documents the connection between the Prime Minister and his two successive Interior Affairs Ministers with drug cartels and the organized crime. Such a connection and cooperation has turned Albania into a ‘captured state’ and a sort of ‘Colombia of Europe’, as mentioned and cited also by many international reports and organizations. I take the occasion to remind you that rampant corruption and organized crime are very powerful factors for bad governance and violation of human rights and freedom, including the freedom to vote of the Albanian citizens.

It is important to mention that these two negative factors have affected Albania’s path to the EU and have blocked the opening of the negotiations with the EU for the last 6 years. Worse than that, between 2013 and 2019, it has forced more than 520,000 Albanians (about one sixth of the population) to flee the country and seek asylum mainly in Europe countries. The same has happened with many foreign investors who left the country because they did not have a chance against massive corruption or organized crime.

In addition to the above mentioned, my other rhetoric, in the media as well as in national and international forums, has been that of denouncing billionaire George Soros as the main corruptor of Albanian politics and denouncing his agenda that goes against the democratic interest of the Albanian people. He has done so by putting all his funded NGOs and the new justice system at the service and in the hands of the ruling Socialist Party.

I have also criticized the corrupt actions and attitudes of Mr. Rama’s Government to allow Soros-owned oil companies to operate in an environmentally protected area in Albania, where oil operations are strictly forbidden by law, creating vast pollution at the expense of human health and the environment.

Edi Rama came to power in June 2013, that same year in December, the Open Society Foundation (OSF) based in Tirana set in its Strategy Plan for 2014 – 2017 two key priorities: the constitutional reform and the reform of the judicial system in Albania. In May of 2014 the OSF organized a series of round tables of debate on these issues and took upon itself to conduct opinion studies and to finance a group of High-Level Experts. This group would write bills that later would be passed in the Parliamentary Special Committee only by the votes of the ruling party. In December 2015 and in March 2016, the Venice Commission overviewed two consecutive draft bills presented by the ruling majority and advised against both of them, as in its opinion it would make the judiciary just an extension of the executive.

After these events, and with the joint direct engagement of high-level officials from both the US State Department and the European Commission, a new package of Constitutional changes that reflected the Venice Commission recommendations was passed unanimously in Parliament on July 21st, 2016.

However, after this real success Mr. Rama in violation of the agreement with the opposition took upon itself to vote unilaterally and without consensus the rest of the organic laws of the reform. By doing so it reactivated the mechanisms that would capture the new justice system under the power of the executive that were previously objected by Venice Commission and opposition.

As a result, with the clear help of the OSF the justice reform ended up with the full capture of the new justice system by the Socialist government. They appointing at the head of all new institutions of the judiciary – in clear violation of the constitution, former prosecutors and former judges of the communist regime, family members of the ministers and even former ministers of the ruling Socialist Party, as well as key representatives of the Soros Foundation itself. As a former President and a Prime Minister, I have supported and played an important role in reforming the justice system but I opposed fiercely its capture by the government.

In January 2019, Prime Minister Rama declared in Parliament that I had been designated “non-grata” by State Department. According to him that measure against me was taken for conspiracy against US foreign policy, as I had openly and strongly opposed the Belgrade Open Society Foundation's project for “swaps” of territories between Kosovo and Serbia. My strong opposition to this project was related to the fact that it is in contradiction with all national and international acts on which the independence of Kosovo was proclaimed.

The project was based on the redrawing of borders on a purely ethnic basis, which would open Pandora's Box in the region. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had repeatedly stated: “The exchange of territories would make Serbia greater.”

My staunch position against such an act was in harmony with many senior Europeans, US high officials, lawmakers as well as prestigious analysts. My strong opposition of this project has also been a barrier against those who were dreaming the partitioning of Kosovo.

I strongly believe that is a matter of fact that mainly for this reason, they lobbied extensively in Washington DC to designate myself as a person “non grata.” I was incredibly surprised when Prime Minister Rama made that statement in parliament back in 2019, because no sign or warning of such and act and decision was made known to me. The natural question that comes to mind is: How did he know that?!

In Conclusion:

1.

After failing to designate me ‘non-grata’ on the conspiracy base at the time, PM Edi Rama and George Soros, succeeded in doing that two years later, through their malevolent and influencing lobbying and by misinforming Secretary Blinken. They succeeded in designating myself and my family members persona ‘non-grata’ for ‘for significant corruption’ based entirely on slanders and misinformation from my opponents, and which in my deepest conviction constitutes a clear abuse of the law of the Congress.

2.

To date, the State Department has not published a single piece of evidence of the alleged corruption in support of Secretary Blinken’s accusation. Furthermore, I strongly assure you that they never will, either the State Department or anyone else on this earth, be able to present any such evidence. I am confident in that for the pure and simple fact that such evidence does not exist.

3.

This decision, eight years after not holding any public office and after resigning from any political leadership position, is an act of pure political revenge. It is linked directly with the malevolent lobbying efforts of Edi Rama and his protégé George Soros, with the sole purpose to attack and damage my 30-year long legacy of serving my country.

4.

This comes as an act of pure revenge for my rhetoric, which was never been used to prevent any investigations against me or my family for the simple fact that such investigations did never exist. My rhetoric has been and will be used in defence of the public and national interests, and the truths that I believe in, without claiming any monopoly on them.

This is a stance that I took since the years of the communist dictatorship, clearly beyond any imagination that it would be used for a political career rather than for my own dignity. A dignity that as an oppressed person I lacked immensely living in that regime.

Today, after 32 years since then, my continuous fight and public denunciations against corruption, organized crime, drug cartels, and their connections with the highest-level government officials is again not at all related to my career but to the future of my country.

As I mentioned before in this letter, between 2013 and 2019 over 520,000 citizens of my country (about one sixth of the population) have fled Albania, and many more would have followed if it wasn’t for the Covid 19 pandemic. Today, such links are the main factor of bad governance and have plunged my nation into the tyranny of poverty, which was considered by John F. Kennedy as one the three main enemies of man.

Finally, for all the above mentioned, I came to the decision to take legal action and file a lawsuit in the Paris Correctional Court, not to overturn Secretary Blinken’s decision – that is his exclusive right, but to bring out the truth, to make full transparency and to quash as groundless the defamation on which his decision was based on.

In truth, I have chosen the courtroom not just for full transparency, but furthermore to restore the honour and dignity of my family and myself. To restore them in front of millions of Albanians who have trusted and voted for me – more than anyone else in Albania, since the day of victory over communism to this day; as well as in front of my friends in the US, Europe and around the world, who have done so much for my country and the Albanian people.

The views expressed in this explanatory note are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect IFIMES official position.

Ljubljana/Tirana, 25 June 2021