TIRANA Feb 16 Albania's parliament lifted the
immunity of former deputy prime minister Ilir Meta on Wednesday
to allow prosecutors to investigate him on graft charges.
Corruption has bedevilled Albania's efforts to move towards
membership of the European Union and the probe into Meta will be
the highest profile investigation in the NATO member state.
Brussels last year refused to give Albania candidate status,
urging Tirana to first tackle corruption, the lack of a proper
democratic culture and rule of law, and has called for an
investigation into the allegations against Meta.
With a 128 votes in favour from both the ruling Democratic
Party and the opposition, parliament gave Prosecutor General Ina
Rama the green light to investigate Meta based on a video
appearing to show him lobbying for favours.
Meta resigned on Jan. 14 after release of the footage, which
was taped by Dritan Prifti, Meta's foreunner as economy
Meta told parliament the version shown on television had
been manipulated by the opposition Socialist Party: "I am
surprised to see the prosecutor's office has been used as an
instrument of politics because it (its request) comes here
without any evidence and only one witness."
Four protesters were shot dead last month during a pitched
battle between security forces and demonstrators demanding the
government resign over the corruption scandal.
Prosecutors are also seeking the lifting of Prifti's
immunity over a separate video, retrieved from his laptop by a
U.S. expert. It shows him and his deputy economy minister
dividing up 70,000 euros.
Prifti, a former deputy chairman of Meta's Socialist
Integration Movement (SIM) party, said he had filmed the second
video to show he was being blackmailed into breaking the law.
The Democrats, who won a second four-year mandate in 2009
with the narrowest margin since Albania toppled communism, rely
on the SIM for their four-seat majority in the 140-seat
(Reporting by Benet Koleka, editing by Jon Boyle)