TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's main opposition Democratic Party made a criminal complaint against Prime Minister Edi Rama Monday, accusing him of illegally funneling $80,000 to U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012 in return for a photograph of the two men together.
The Democrats brought the case to the Prosecutor General's office, saying Rama — who was then the opposition leader — paid the money in violation of U.S. and Albanian laws to gain access to a campaign event in San Francisco in October 2012.
Last week Bilal Shehu, 48, a U.S. citizen of Albanian origin, pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to willfully making foreign contributions and donations to the Obama campaign.
Rama has denied taking part in "any of President Obama's electoral meetings" or that he paid for tickets to the event, although he acknowledged meeting Shehu as "a member of the Albanian community in New York."
"Edi Rama has committed at least three criminal acts ... and personally profited from that," said Democratic lawmaker Eduard Halimi after handing over the request.
Rama proudly used the picture at the time to show his affinity to Obama, only months before the parliamentary elections that brought his Socialist Party to power.
"Premier Rama has no connection with any kind of illegal funding and the only 'crime' he committed in 2012 is that he had a picture with the U.S. president at a time when the Albanian government and its chief had the doors closed and Albania's international relations suffered," a statement from Rama's office said.
It is not clear whether the prosecutors will decide to investigate, as they first check the legal basis of the complaint.
According to documents filed in Shehu's case in the U.S., investigated by the FBI, he received the money from a foreign source and provided it to a joint fundraising committee to disguise its true origin and so that a foreign national could attend a campaign event.
Rama's name was not mentioned in the case. The documents said that the "foreign national" was denied access to the event in San Francisco but was allowed to be photographed with the president.
The New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement that no one from the fundraising committee is accused of wrongdoing, and the committee has fully cooperated with the investigation.
Shehu's sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 5. The offense carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.