Lawmakers Scrambling After Smoke Bomb Goes Off

In response to corruption charges, the Albanian parliament has removed Sali Berisha, the country’s former president, from his immunity.

On Monday, members of the opposition Democratic Party attempted to disrupt the chamber’s vote on the 2024 budget by setting off smoke bombs and lighting a small fire in the center of parliament. Probable arrest and a prison term of four to twelve years await Berisha, who ruled Albanian politics in the early 1990s as president and again as conservative prime minister from 2005 to 2013.

October saw the filing of charges against the seasoned politician and his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, alleging “passive corruption” that began in 2008 with the introduction of legislation permitting the privatization of sporting facilities that had been confiscated during communism by Berisha’s administration.

According to the Albanian special prosecutor’s office for organized crime and corruption, Berisha and Malltezi received €5.4 million in bribes, and the law reforms bolstered their financial interests.

After the former leader disregarded a law mandating his bimonthly police reports and failed to cooperate with authorities throughout the inquiry, prosecutors sought a vote to rescind his immunity. Even though it is one of Europe’s poorest nations, watchdogs have ranked Albania as one of the continent’s most corrupt. Alleged ties to organized crime and corruption led to Berisha’s entry bans to the United States and the United Kingdom last year.

A sports club’s grounds were the subject of a property transaction that led to Berisha and his son-in-law being charged with corruption last month. Among those arrested was Berisha’s daughter’s husband, who allegedly benefited from the privatization processes that he oversaw while premier from 2005 to 2009. As a member of parliament, Berisha is immune from prosecution and is forbidden from leaving the nation.

The smoke bomb ploy to disrupt a potential vote is reminiscent of U.S. congressman Jamaal Bowman’s stunt to stop a vote by pulling a fire alarm in the Capitol building when Congress was in session.

Bowman was fined $1000 and remains a congressman.