The imprisoned mayor-elect of the southern Albanian municipality of Himare, Fredi Beleri, on Sunday referred to the most recent political developments surrounding his controversial case, following the resignation of the former mayor, whom he defeated in a local government race last May.
Beleri, 51, an ethnic Greek office-holder from the coastal Himare region, defeated incumbent Gjergj Goro by the thinnest of margins. However, he was summarily charged with vote-buying by an Albanian anti-corruption court days before the election and remains in pre-trial detention ever since.
In comments from behind prison bars he said the outgoing mayor “…in reality, didn’t resign, but abandoned the mayor’s seat, which he’d lost some time ago. He was a puppet, anyway.”
The mayor-elect’s acidic statement more-or-less aims at Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who actively campaigned for Goro and is viewed, by Athens and Albanian political rivals, as indirectly opposing Beleri’s release on bail.
What has infuriated much of the recognized ethnic Greek minority in the Adriatic country and caused a stern diplomatic reaction by Athens is the fact that Beleri has not been allowed out of jail, even for one day, in order to be sworn-in, thus risking a loss of his seat.
The Greek government has also repeatedly cited the rule of law concept of presumption of innocence and repeated delays in commencing and concluding the trial process. Meanwhile, media in both countries have reported that prosecution witnesses have disappeared, with conflicting testimony also bedeviling the prosecution’s case.
Additionally, Beleri called on Rama to appoint a municipal councilor from his (Beleri’s) party until his release from jail, so the councilor assumes the post of mayor, a development based on the election result.
“Whoever takes over as interim mayor until my release and swearing-in must be one of the councilors who comes from the municipal faction with which we won the elections in May 2023,” he emphasized.
In what’s viewed as an attempt to defuse the crisis in bilateral relations, given that the Mitsotakis government has signaled that it will block Albania’s EU accession course over the Beleri case, Rama last week acknowledged that Beleri and his ticket won the Himare election.