Albanian deputy PM quits amid corruption allegations

TIRANA Fri Jan 14, 2011 1:26pm EST

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TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned Friday, saying he wanted to fight allegations of corruption, after the release of a videotape appearing to show him lobbying for favors.

"I resigned from my government jobs to fight against the accusations made by the monster Dritan Prifti," Meta, who replaced Prifti as economy minister in September, told a news conference.

Meta's party is the minority coalition partner in Prime Minister Sali Berisha's government and is important for the country's political stability. Berisha said the two parties would continue to cooperate after Meta's resignation.

Wednesday, Meta gave up his immunity from prosecution to allow an investigation of allegations of corruption made during a conversation filmed by then Economy Minister Dritan Prifti, a former ally who belongs to the same political party.

Corruption has bedeviled Albania's efforts to take the first steps toward membership of the European Union. Brussels refused last year to give Albania candidate status, urging Tirana to tackle corruption and other problems first, and has called for an investigation into the allegations against Meta.

Excerpts from Prifti's videotape show Meta, a former prime minister, entering Prifti's office at the economy ministry in March, and starting to give him orders on granting favors.

The video shows Meta asking Prifti to cancel a tender by state-owned Albpetrol to help another company take part, and to give a concession for a hydro-electric plant to another company despite an ongoing court review.

Berisha denounced the video, shown on a local television station, saying it was fabricated by opposition Socialists. Meta dismissed the video as a "fabrication" and an "ugly political and moral bluff."

That line of defense appeared to weaken when Prifti showed the entire 13 minutes of the footage on primetime television on Thursday and added a number of potentially incriminating accusations against Meta.

"It was my duty to document the mafia-style pressure Ilir Meta has applied against me for more than a year, asking me to grant public tenders to whomever he chose. It was my duty to show what kind of mafioso I had to deal with," Prifti said.

"That man is the most corrupt person on Albanian soil. He has been stealing, accusing, threatening and cheating for 12 years. He has not been caught so far."

Listing a number of alleged abuses of public money, Prifti said Meta did not really want to sell the state-owned Albpetrol oil firm because he wanted to use its tenders for illegal profit.

He also said he had many more videos.

(Editing by Adam Tanner and Tim Pearce)

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