TIRANA, Albania -- A former Albanian environment minister has been arrested on abuse of post and corruption charges, the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday.
In a statement, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Corruption and Organized Crime said Lefter Koka was arrested following months of investigation and is accused of abuse of post, corruption and money laundry for a concession contract on an incinerator in the central city of Elbasan. He is accused of accepting a bribe of 3.7 million euros ($4.1 million).
Koka, 57, was Albania's environment minister from 2013 to 2017. Koka also served as a lawmaker and before that as mayor of the western port city of Durres. His businesses have been temporarily sequestered.
Two businessmen also are arrested and their companies have been sequestered too.
Koka faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
Corruption has strongly affected post-communist Albania’s democratic, economic and social development.
The country’s center-right opposition has accused the left-wing government of Prime Minister Edi Rama of money laundry and corruption in giving some 400 million euros ($450 million) for incinerator projects to their businessmen.
Waste processing has been and still is a serious concern for Albania’s governments and a top priority for its efforts to join the European Union one day.
“(The prosecutors') actions ... show that no one is above the law," U.S. Ambassador in Tirana Yuri Kim tweeted. "Justice reform is producing concrete results.”
A judicial reform in Albania, which was approved in 2016 with the involvement of the United States and the European Union, has created new judicial institutions to address corruption. Many judges and prosecutors have been dismissed for alleged corruption and illegally earning property and money.
Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini