US lobbying payments in Albania elections revealed

US lobbying payments in Albania elections revealed | Gage Skidmore

Albania's General Prosecutor on Thursday said the Tirana District Prosecutors had opened an investigation into the Democratic Party's accounts about how much it had spent on US lobbying companies.

The head of the Tirana District Prosecution, Petrit Fusha, told sources that they were collecting documents about the party's lobbying contracts in Washington. Requests for information had been sent to the party and to the Central Election Commission.

An investigation published on November 22 had uncovered that during the campaign for the 25 June parliamentary elections, the party signed two contracts with the US lobbyists Stonington Strategies to secure meetings with senior figures in President Donald Trump's administration.

The company said it received two payments from the Democratic Party with a total of 525,000 US dollars plus a third payment of 150,000 US dollars from “Biniatta Trade LP” - a shell company registered in Scotland under the ownership of two Belize-based companies.

The direct contract between the Democratic Party and Stonington Strategies was reported to the US Justice Department in March 2017 while the contract through “Biniatta Trade LP" was reported in November.

Nevertheless, none of these payments was noted in the financial report that the Democratic Party filed to the Central Election Commission on this year's electoral campaign.

After the publication of the Investigation, the leader of the party, Lulzim Basha, called the case a matter of "smoke bombs and lies". However, the party later declared in a press release that its lobbying contracts had been declared to the US Department of Justice.

On Thursday, Basha told parliament that Socialist Party claims about money laundering were "a deception to avoid the truth" about Prime Minister Edi Rama, former Interior Minister, Saimir Tahiri, and other ruling Socialist officials accused repeatedly by the opposition of having criminal ties.

"The DP had delivered all its spending to the Central Election Commission based on the law. The DP has nothing to hide," Basha told parliament.

Hefty payments made by politicians to US lobbyists were a theme of debate in parliament's Thursday session. The head of the Socialist parliamentary group, Taulant Balla, said he would file criminal charges against the DP to prosecutors.

The Democratic Party is not the only party in Albania that has paid hefty sums to influence US policies. The governing Socialist Party signed a 240,000 dollar contract with US-based Ballard Partners before the elections.