Tories were warned about crooked regime

The Conservatives were given repeated warnings about their links with Albania's ruling Democratic Party last year.

Following Commons allegations about the "gangster state" of President Sali Berisha, London sources said yesterday that the Tories were asked to investigate allegations being made about the dictatorial tendencies of his Democratic Party.

The Conservatives have sponsored a number of financial aid projects for the Democratic Party, under the auspices of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy - a cross-party organisation that receives about pounds 2.5m in annual grant from the Foreign Office.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also given assistance to partner parties in Albania, financed by funds from the Westminster Foundation.

But after complaints had been made about last May's Albanian elections, the Foundation obtained copies of reports from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose monitors had witnessed widespread vote- rigging and intimidation by President Berisha's party machine.

One Westminster Foundation source said yesterday that after those allegations had been discussed, one Conservative project was approved on condition that the party should log its concerns with President Berisha's party colleagues.

It was also agreed that the Tories should carry out their own investigation into the democratic commitment of the Albanian Democratic Party - before putting forward any further projects requiring Westminster Foundation funding.

In one discussion, a Tory representative said that President Berisha had spoken of his amazement that Labour and the Liberal Democrats were providing more Westminster Foundation finance for his political opponents than the Conservatives were offering to his party.

The Foundation's governing body decided that the situation should be kept under review - with an implicit warning that the Conservatives should be careful if they wished to continue funding a party which had become essentially undemocratic in its nature.

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