Gangsters' British links

Whitehall propped up regime; Links between the crumbling Albanian regime, the Conservative Party and the Foreign Office have been drawn by the Labour MP Denis MacShane
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Whitehall gave diplomatic and trade aid to the "gangster state" of Albania as part of a policy that helped to prop up the criminal regime, it was alleged in the Commons yesterday.

Labour MPs have put down a Commons motion and questions suggesting Foreign Office diplomatic bags may have been improperly used to send political material to Albania, in possible violation of international conventions.

Links between the crumbling regime and the Conservative Party, the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister were drawn by Labour MP Denis MacShane in a series of Commons questions, a motion and a speech - all of which carry privileged protection from libel action.

The Independent reported yesterday that Britain had helped the Albanian government, in spite of intelligence warnings of complicity and involvement in drug-smuggling, gun-running, sanctions-busting and money-laundering.

In the Commons yesterday, Mr MacShane, MP for Rotherham, and 10 backbench colleagues used a motion to criticise "British diplomatic and trade support" for Shaiponja, a company allegedly run by Albania's ruling Democratic Party and involved in smuggling, and for the Vefa holding company, which ran one of the pyramid sales schemes and which also has links with the ruling party.

The motion claimed that official British support for the regime "may have led to violations of the Vienna Convention on the use of diplomatic bags as well as complicity in arms dealing with Rwanda and Afghanistan."

In a separate question, Mr MacShane put down a written Commons question to the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, asking: "What representations he has received about the use of the diplomatic bag to convey party political propaganda?" Independent expert examination was urged in the motion for "artefacts thought to be from the National History Museum of Tirana given as gifts to the Prime Minister and other ministers by [President] Sali Berisha in 1994."

Mr Berisha, who attended the Conservative Party conference in 1991, made a state visit to London in 1994, but Number 10 said last night that John Major had been given a "fake blunderbuss".

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, was thought to have been given a "coffee set" by an unknown Albanian minister in August 1992, but a full list of Albanian gifts for Foreign Office ministers could not be found yesterday. In an impromptu Commons speech, during a debate on a Private Member's Bill - the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, which would allow prosecutions for crimes plotted in Britain but committed abroad - Mr MacShane said President Berisha was "the political godson of our own Prime Minister" and had been at Tory conferences with Mr Major.

As for alleged Tory links with the Berisha regime, the motion condemned "the continuing political support from the Conservative Party and its former vice-chair, the Right Honourable Member for Chertsey and Walton" - Sir Geoffrey Pattie MP. Sir Geoffrey, a former minister who is non- executive chairman of GEC Marconi, was out of the country and unavailable for comment yesterday. The motion also urged "Westminster Conservative Association not to allow its address to be used by apologists for the Berisha regime". A recent letter to the Times, extolling business opportunities in Albania, carried a Westminster address that coincides with the offices of the Cities of London and Westminster Conservative Association.

In yesterday's debate, Mr MacShane said: "President Sali Berisha has appeared on Conservative Party conferences with the Prime Minister." President Berisha's Democratic Party was widely regarded as "a gangster organisation", linked to arms dealing, drug dealing and smuggling historic artefacts from the national museums of Albania, said the Labour MP.

"This gangster state and President Sali Berisha have very strong links with, and indeed have the patronage of, the Conservative Party," he added.

Mr MacShane said he hoped the arms-to-Iraq inquiry chairman Sir Richard Scott would hold a public inquiry "into the behaviour of the gangster state of Albania and its political support in this country". It might be a question of prosecutions being made under powers in the Bill, he said. In a series of written Commons questions, Mr MacShane asked the Foreign Secretary to list:

Projects funded in Albania by the Government-backed Know-How Fund since 1992;

Albanian military personnel who had visited the UK;

The number of Albanian officials who had made British-sponsored visits to the UK;

Gifts received by ministers from the Albanian president.

He also asked Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, what discussions the Department of Trade and Industry had had over the past five years with Vefa Holdings and the Albanian Commercial Office, and Anglo-Adriatic Holdings.

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