Greece's ruling conservatives have announced that they will run a jailed Albanian politician as one of its candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections. (EPA-EFE/MALTON DIBRA)


Greek ruling party to run jailed politician in EP elections


Greece’s ruling conservatives have announced that they will run a jailed Albanian politician as one of its candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections.

The New Democracy party is set to field Fredi Beleris — an ethnic Greek — in the June election in a move that may see the relationship between Greece and Albania sour further.

Elected as the Mayor of Himare in Southern Albania last year, Beleris found himself embroiled in controversy after being arrested on charges of vote-buying just days before assuming office.

Albanian authorities say police wiretaps showed a third party was set to provide him with a list of people prepared to vote for him for a €45 fee each.

Beleri was also accused of agreeing to pay the middleman approximately €300. It is claimed all alleged transactions were made via the middleman rather than with Beleri directly.

Despite maintaining his innocence, Beleris was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in a trial that Greece denounced as unjust.

The Greek Government has since threatened to block Albania’s bid for European Union membership unless the politician’s rights “are respected”.

“The prosecution’s conclusions are lies and political,” Beleris had previously insisted while speaking in the Albanian courts.

“All the prosecution’s allegations were disputed by my lawyers in detail.”

During the trial’s closing statements on February 28, his defence argued that the evidence was flawed because the methods used to investigate the case were unlawful.

Beleris’ lawyers also accused the police of having framed their client, using an undercover agent to entrap him.

Accusations of corruption in Albania are nothing new. Journalist and editor of the show “On Target”, Dritan Ljaci, told Kosovo Online that there have been many problems in Himara over the years, not because of Greece’s interventions, but because, “oligarchs covet its coastline.”

“Mayors in Himara, and six of them have been arrested, were not elected because they were the right people for governance but because they served the government,” he said.

“Although the mayors there were mostly of Greek nationality, they always served the government, both left and right. The government selects these people, politically elevates them, and then sends them where Fredi Beleris is today.”

Greece’s New Democracy party has drawn criticism over its decision to include Beleris as a candidate.

The decision to nominate Beleris has been seen as a direct challenge to Albania’s judicial system. The Greek foreign affairs ministry had already raised concerns about the impartiality of the justice system in that country, according to news portal GreekReporter.

“This is due to the fact that the presumption of innocence was undermined by external statements and actions attesting in favour of the conviction and given that the final sentence is obviously disproportionate to the extent of the alleged offence,” stated the ministry.

“Furthermore, the sentencing by virtue of which he will not be released prevents the elected mayor from assuming his duties, even today, and keeps the defeated candidate in office, despite a clear judicial ruling months ago ordering his immediate removal.”

The Greek Government, along with Beleris supporters, contended that his imprisonment prevented him from fulfilling his elected duties as mayor, effectively undermining the democratic process.

Greece has called for Beleris’ immediate release and for him to be allowed to assume his mayoral duties, as mandated by his electoral victory in 2023.

“The battle I am fighting is not personal. It is a battle for the rule of law and democracy,” Beleris posted on Facebook on April 16 after “virtually” attending a ceremony announcing the candidate list in Athens, held by New Democracy and led by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

When  Mitsotakis visited Albania in October last year, he said while he respected the independence of the Albanian judiciary, “Fredi Beleris has the right to be sworn in as Mayor of Himara even if he is in custody.”

The former mayor Jorgo Goro stepped down after he was detained on allegations of corruption.