President of Albania 'gave Queen stolen goods'

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The Independent Online
The Prime Minister, the Queen and the Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg may all have received stolen goods as official gifts from the President of Albania, Sali Berisha.

The gifts, antiques from the Ottoman empire period, are believed to have been illegally removed from museums and national collections in Albania and passed on as personal mementos of the leader's state visit to Britain in 1994.

Mr Hogg, who faces a Labour-backed censure motion in the Commons tomorrow, was given an exquisite jewelled dagger similar to one displayed in the Topkapi museum in Istanbul. John Major received a rare flintlock pistol, while the Queen was given an inlaid silver box.

Other ministers who accepted presents from the Albanian politician whose repressive regime has brought his country to the edge of ruin include the Overseas Development Minister, Baroness Chalker, who received a rare silver plate necklace and matching belt.

The former foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, was presented with an impressive Ottoman sabre with scabbard set with gem stones.

Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, who put down an early day motion questioning the Conservative Party's support for the Albania regime, wants the gifts sent back.

"In my view, independent academics from Albania ought to be invited to the UK to establish the provenance of these artefacts," Mr MacShane said.

"In the light of what has emerged about the conduct of Mr Berisha and some members of his government, there is a very strong case for authenticating just where these gifts have come from. They could form an important part of the Albanian national heritage." Neritan Ceka, the former director of the Albanian National Archaeological Museum, has made an impassioned plea for the return of his nation's missing treasures. "We believe that these gifts may be of national importance to our country, but we have no way of knowing for sure, as so much has been looted from our museums and archive collections," said Mr Ceka, who now leads Albania's Democratic Alliance opposition party.

Mr Ceka, who speaks good English and has addressed archaeologists at Oxford University, has pointed out that, whatever the commercial value of the gifts in question, their import into Britain is probably illegal. "For many years there has been a specific law banning the export of all historical artefacts without an order in council. We know that no such order was made," he said.

In Britain strict rules govern the giving and receiving of gifts. Presents over the value of pounds 125 must be recorded and when a minister leaves office he or she has to decide whether to buy them for private use. Yesterday a Foreign Office spokesman could not trace the paperwork for the 1994 state visit. A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said action would be taken after the weekend.