Zaiwalla & Co acts in Sali Berisha v Secretary of State for the Home Department, featured in The Lawyer’s Top 20 Cases of 2024

March 18 2024

From tomorrow, 19 March 2024, the United Kingdom’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) will hear a landmark legal challenge by the current Albanian opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Dr Sali Berisha, against the UK Government’s 2022 decision to ban him from entering the United Kingdom on the grounds of alleged criminality and corruption.

This is the first known legal challenge to a decision by the UK Home Secretary excluding a leader of opposition of a friendly foreign state from the UK.  

The UK and Albania have good diplomatic relations. Dr Berisha alleges that the current Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, had prior knowledge of the exclusion order, and had announced it in the Albanian Parliament, even before he himself had been notified of the Home Secretary’s decision. Raising questions as to the process followed in the decision making. 

The Home Secretary has made the decision to exclude Dr Berisha on the basis that his presence in the UK would not be conducive to public good as he is alleged to have been involved in criminality and corruption. This decision is reported to have been taken as part of the UK Government’s drive to tackle Organised Crime Groups in the Western Balkans, which is initially being piloted in Albania.

The case is expected to be precedent setting and will involve SIAC considering intelligence evidence behind closed doors, without giving opportunity to Dr Berisha to prove his innocence. 

Dr Berisha had applied to SIAC for a Judicial Review of the Home Secretary’s decision in August 2022 on the basis that the allegations of criminality and corruption made against him were untrue, he had no criminal convictions in Albania and that the UK’s decision was politically motivated, and arose as a result of lobbying by his political adversaries, notably the current Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama  and billionaire US based philanthropist George Soros, an influential figure alleged to be Rama’s mentor.  

The case names other high-profile individuals such as US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken, both the current and former UK Ambassadors to Albania and other Albanian political figures such as the former Chairman of the Albanian Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha.  

According to a report published by the Council of American Ambassadors, Prime Minister Rama and his Socialist Party of Albania now enjoys virtual monopolies of the national government and of local and regional elected offices, and the exclusion order against Dr Berisha would further strengthen his and his party’s position. 

In May 2021, a similar exclusion order was made by the US Government against Dr Berisha and his family. Dr Berisha has since filed a suit in France against the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J Blinken. 

Dr Berisha’s legal team will raise arguments including that the Home Secretary has (i) made an error of law as the serious allegations made against Dr Berisha are patently untrue, (ii) made an arbitrary distinction between Dr Berisha and those who are in analogous position to him (including Edi Rama, against whom there are also serious allegations of corruption and criminality), (iii) failed to have regard to the fact that Dr Berisha has not been in power for 10 years and overlooking persons who are currently in power, is liable to strengthen the sponsors of OCGs and defeats the whole objective behind tackling Organised Crime Groups in the Western Balkans and (iv) Diplomatic Immunity.  

SIAC’s decision could potentially impact UK policy in the Western Balkans, understood to be a region of utmost importance to the Home Office given the “small boat” migrant crisis. 

Sarosh Zaiwalla, Kartik Mittal, Henna Elahi, Stephanie Limaco and Daniel Powell act on this case instructing Fergus Randolph of Brick Court Chambers.  

 

Press:

Zaiwalla & Co have recently been mentioned in a City A.M publication.

Kartik Mittal's comments featured in The Legal Diary.

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