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Albania court sentences ex-interior minister to probation

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — An Albanian court on Thursday sentenced a former interior minister to three years of probation for abuse of his post, turning down prosecutors' charges of ties to a crime network suspected of trafficking large amounts of marijuana.

The Tirana Special Crime Court sentenced Saimir Tahiri, 49, to three years and four months in prison, but converted that to probation, meaning he won't go to jail. He cannot run or hold public positions during those three years.

Tahiri said he would appeal the conviction. "The court told me you are not a criminal, you are not a trafficker, you are not part of a structured criminal organization, and as some of your relatives have used your name, you have abused with your post," he told journalists after the verdict. "I am accountable for abuse of post because some relatives used my name."

"I can't cry, or laugh. Let me understand it and tomorrow I will talk to you again," he said. Prosecutors had asked 12 years in prison for Tahiri, alleging links to drug trafficking, corruption and involvement in a criminal organization. Some of Tahiri's relatives have been arrested or jailed for drug trafficking in Italy and Albania.

After consulting for more than nine hours, the three judges said those charges could not be proved with evidence and turned them down. Tahiri was interior minister in 2013-2017 and was briefly held under house arrest after resigning as a governing Socialist Party lawmaker in May 2018.

Albania was once known as a crossroads for the trafficking of marijuana, but there are now more cases involving the trafficking of heroin and cocaine trafficking toward Western European countries. In a case unrelated to Tahiri's, Albanian police reported that Arber Cekaj, a businessman accused of involvement in the trafficking of 613 kilograms (1,350 pounds) of cocaine last year, was extradited on Thursday from Germany, where he had been detained for more than a year.

That was the biggest seizure of cocaine ever in Albania. The cocaine, with an estimated market value of 180 million euros ($220 million) at the time, was found in February 2018 inside a shipping container owned by Cekaj's company, Arbri Garden, loaded with bananas from Colombia.

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