Albanian whistleblower to face corruption charges
TIRANA Feb 24 (Reuters) - Albania's parliament lifted the immunity of former economy minister Dritan Prifti on Thursday to face prosecution on corruption charges, after Prifti blew the whistle on the alleged corruption of his former party boss.
Last week, parliament lifted the immunity of former deputy premier Ilir Meta, Prifti's party chief in the Socialist Integration Movement (SIM) party, after Prifti released a video he had taped showing Meta pressuring to grant illegal favours.
But he turned from whistleblower into suspect after a U.S. expert retrieved a video from Prifti's computer showing him splitting 70,000 euros ($96,600) with one of his deputies. [nLDE71F0NB]
Prifti denies wrongdoing and urged parliament to let prosecutors investigate him.
Corruption has bedevilled Albania's efforts to move towards membership of the European Union although Prime Minister Sali Berisha promised to govern with clean hands.
Brussels last year refused to give Albania candidate status, urging Tirana to first tackle corruption, the lack of a proper democratic culture and the rule of law, and has called for an investigation into the allegations against Meta. [ID:nLDE71N0S3]
"I will not take part in the session to avoid influencing my fellow lawmakers. I ask them to vote in favour of authorising prosecutors irrespective of their personal or political relationship with me," Prifti said in a letter to parliament.
With 119 votes in favour and three against, lawmakers from both the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Socialist Party in the 140-seat parliament gave the go-ahead to prosecutors. Prifti is closer to the Socialists now.
Declaring his innocence, Prifti said he was ready to cooperate with the prosecutors to eliminate any kind of doubt about the video which he had taped himself, allegedly to document the blackmail against him.
Meta, whose SIM party provides the four extra votes the ruling Democratic Party needs for its majority in parliament, resigned on Jan. 14 after the release of the footage. [ID:nLDE70D1AQ]
Four protesters were shot dead last month during a pitched battle between security forces and demonstrators demanding the government resign over the corruption scandal.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka, editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Paul Taylor)
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