Albanian Socialist arranged $10,000 payment for Obama photo

Patrick Howley | Political Reporter

An Albanian politician under investigation for corruption arranged a $10,000 contribution to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in order to set up a photo opportunity between Obama and the leader of the Socialist Party of Albania.

Edi Rama, the Socialist party candidate for prime minister in Albanian elections later this month, was photographed with the president at an October 2012 fundraiser. Rama has been heavily promoting this appearance with the U.S. leader in the apparent hope that it will help the Socialists gain power in the election.

What Rama doesn’t mention is that the photo was arranged with the help of a $10,000 Obama campaign contribution made by an Albanian resident of New Jersey.

Rama’s Socialist Party is attempting to unseat Democratic Party prime minister Sali Berisha in the June 23 Albanian parliamentary elections and elect Rama as prime minister.

Albanian politician Dritan Prifti, who was then a member of the Socialist Party, arranged for Rama to attend a $40,000-a-head San Francisco fundraiser with Obama on the night of Oct. 8, 2012, an Albanian National who has close relations with the Socialist Party and who has worked in the Albanian government told The Daily Caller.

The source, who insisted on anonymity, told TheDC that Prifti compelled an Albanian resident of New Jersey and his wife to donate $70,000 to the Obama Victory Fund 2012 just days before the fundraiser and to bring Rama as his personal guest

Part of this contribution was intended as a $10,000 payment to the Obama campaign for the photograph. Foreign nationals like Prifti and Rama are legally prohibited from directly donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Prifti, who has since split with Rama and the Socialists due to a political feud and is now running for Parliament as an independent, claimed in a video released in Albania late last month that he arranged Rama’s photograph with Obama, which Rama is now showing off in his home country to help him in the elections.

On Oct. 9, 2012, Rama tweeted in Albanian, “Ne fund nje takim i paharrueshem me Presidentin Obama! Fat dhe nder per shqiptaret ky mik i madh ne Shtepine e Bardhe.”

Rama’s tweet, translated to English, means, “At the end, an unforgettable meeting with President Obama! Fate and honor that Albanians have such a great friend in the White House.”

“Yesterday Edi Rama showed the media the picture that he took with Barack Obama. I want to remind Edi Rama that I organized this meeting with Obama.  I was the person who personally undertook the organizing of this meeting and I realized this meeting for Edi Rama,” Prifti said in Albanian, according to a translation of the video.

“Rama was supposed to travel to this dinner along with Prifti and one other Socialist parliament member, but Prifti was denied the visa to travel with Rama because he was under investigation for corruption in Albania,” according to the Albanian source.

“The reason that Rama did not publish this picture immediately was that he felt journalists would find out that he had paid money for the picture,” according to the source, who claimed that the photograph cost $10,000.

Rama posted the photograph on his Facebook page May 24, and the photo has been published extensively in the Albanian press. Julianna Smoot, deputy manager for Obama’s 2012 campaign, appears in the background of the photograph.

Prifti and Rama arranged the meeting by persuading Bilal Shehu, an Albanian resident of New Jersey who had never before donated to a political campaign, to contribute $70,000 to the Obama Victory Fund 2012 on September 28, 2012, according to the source. This source did not say how the two convinced Shehu to make the donation.

Edi Rama and Bilal Shehu. Facebook

Shehu brought Rama to the fundraiser as his personal guest, and his wife Aida Shehu contributed $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund 2012 on Sept. 28, 2012.

Until his emigration to the United States in 2009, Shehu was a customs agent in Albania earning the equivalent of between $5,000 and $8,000 per year. He is now listed as the co-owner of Eliot Kleri, LLC, a small limousine company in Hawthorne, New Jersey. According to FEC records, Shehu had never before donated to an American political campaign.

Shehu did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Shehu has been photographed with Rama on multiple occasions.

Bilal Shehu and Edi Rama. Daily Caller source

Rama, who served as a board member of George Soros’ Open Society Foundation of Albania, has been his nation’s primary opposition leader since 2005. Rama recently announced that Tony Blair would serve as a consultant to his government in order to help Albania gain membership in the European Union by enacting the kinds of social reform policies that Blair implemented as prime minister of the United Kingdom in the 1990s.

The United States reportedly “brought its influence to bear in Albania” in April in an attempt to help reconstitute the country’s electoral commission prior to the June 23 elections.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

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