Albanian police destroy a field of cannabis plants in a remote mountainous area
Albanian police destroy a field of cannabis plants in a remote mountainous area AFP / GENT SHKULLAKU

An Albanian court has acquitted former interior minister Saimir Tahiri on drug trafficking charges but sentenced him to three years of probation for abuse of power.

Prosecutors had requested 12 years for the former ally of Prime Minister Edi Rama during a high-profile trial in a country under pressure from the EU to tackle corruption and drug trafficking.

Tahiri, who was forced to step down in 2017, will not be allowed to hold public office during the three-year period, the court ruled late Thursday.

The 40-year-old said he would appeal but welcomed the court clearance "that I am not a criminal, a trafficker or a member of a criminal organisation."

The court did not elaborate on why he was convicted for abuse of power.

In late 2017, Tahiri became a suspect in a cannabis smuggling case after his name appeared in wiretaps of a drug trafficker and distant cousin in Italy.

The opposition alleged criminal links in Rama's administration, while Rama defended his former minister as a victim of slander.

Albania has long been a major producer of cannabis, much of it bound for Italy, though authorities say they have severely cracked down on the industry recently.

The current Interior Minister, Sander Lleshaj, said in June that Albania had "left the map of cannabis-producing countries".

But the poor Balkan state remains a key transit point for heroin and cocaine destined for European markets.

On Thursday, Albanian police asked Germany to extradite an Albanian businessman, Arber Cekaj, suspected of cocaine trafficking.

Authorities have seized a container carrying 613 kilos (1351 pounds) of Colombian cocaine in February in a cargo of bananas belonging to Cekaj's company.