Albania’s ex-leader loses immunity, triggering smoke bomb chaos in parliament.

Supporters show their discontent as former president and prime minister Sali Berisha is likely to be arrested for corruption allegations, as Albania’s parliament votes to remove his legal immunity.

Sali Berisha, who dominated Albanian politics in the early 1990s as head of state and again as conservative prime minister from 2005 to 2013, now faces probable arrest and a potential prison sentence of four to twelve years if found guilty.

“I am stronger than ever,” Berisha said as he left the chamber, surrounded by bodyguards. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the investigation as a politically motivated witch-hunt orchestrated by his long-time rival, the current socialist prime minister, Edi Rama.

“This decision will not achieve its goal of destroying the opposition; instead, it will unite and mobilize it with the motto: now or never,” he added. Meanwhile, MPs from his opposition Democratic party piled chairs high and set off smoke bombs in the chamber.

Outside the parliament building, hundreds of Berisha’s supporters protested as the police cordoned off the area. Officers dressed in anti-riot gear and equipped with water cannons stood by in case of violence after the vote, which passed with 75 votes in favor and 65 against.

In October, the veteran politician and his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, were charged with “passive corruption” related to a law introduced by Berisha’s government in 2008, allowing the privatization of sports facilities that were expropriated during communism. The special prosecutor’s office for corruption and organized crime in Albania alleges that these legal changes benefited business projects in which Berisha and Malltezi had financial interests, resulting in kickbacks of €5.4 million.

Malltezi took advantage of the law to convert a sports complex owned by the defense ministry in Tirana into residential buildings. He was arrested after being charged, while Berisha was barred from leaving the country.

The former leader’s immunity was revoked following his refusal to cooperate with authorities during the investigation and his failure to comply with a measure requiring him to report to the police twice a month.

Albania is regularly ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe by watchdog organizations. Last year, Berisha was banned from entering the US and the UK due to alleged involvement in organized crime and corruption. The US accused him of misusing public funds and interfering with public processes, using his power for personal gain and enriching relatives and allies. Berisha has vehemently denied these accusations.

Reuters and Agence France Presse contributed to this report.

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