Newly re-elected Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi is one of the "biggest fish" in organised crime in the country, according to NATO documents leaked to the UK's Guardian newspaper. The European Commission said it was taking reports of war crimes and organised crime "extremely seriously," but added that it was seeking concrete evidence.
The intelligence reports, marked as "Secret", suggest Western powers have known about Thaçi's criminal connections for years. Xhavit Haliti, a senior politician close to the prime minister, is also named as having links to the Albanian mafia.
One of the reports, which were produced around 2004, calls Haliti "the power behind Hashim Thaçi" and says he turned to organised crime "on a grand scale" after the war against Serbian forces in the late 1990s.
NATO said it is investigating the leak, while a Kosovo government spokesman dismissed the accusations. "They are based on hearsay and intentional false Serbian intelligence," he told the Guardian.
The revelations come as the Council of Europe, a Strasbourg-based parliamentary assembly, launches a formal investigation into claims that Thaçi is a mafia-style boss responsible for assassinations, human organ trafficking and drug rings.
An inquiry by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty last month accused the prime minister of the crimes, together with other senior figures involved in the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The probe followed investigations by EULEX, the EU's justice mission in Kosovo, into an organised criminal group that has been trafficking people in order to use their organs for transplants to other humans.
West turned a blind eye?
The NATO leak adds fuel to Marty's conclusion that the West has conveniently ignored Thaçi's links to criminal activities in order to secure short-term stability in the region.
"The international organisations […] in Kosovo favoured a pragmatic political approach, taking the view that they needed to promote short-term stability at any price, thereby sacrificing some important principles of justice," he claims.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment, Maja Kociancic, spokesperson for EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, rejected the view that the West had turned a blind eye to Thaçi, adding that the EU executive was taking reports of war crimes and organised crime "extremely seriously".
But she immediately added that this was the Commission's approach vis-à-vis all Western Balkan countries, including Kosovo. She said that Ashton and the Commission fully supported EULEX, the EU's law-enforcement mission in Kosovo.
"We believe this mission is the most competent to take this issue forward, but every prosecution has to base its investigation on evidence," she said today (26 January).
Kocijancic said that if Dick Marty or other players had evidence of criminal activities, this needed to be brought forward to EULEX.
Meanwhile, Thaçi's Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) has just been re-elected to govern the partially-recognised state, which is aspiring to join the EU. A partial repeat took place on 9 January after cases of fraud were found in the initial poll on 12 December.
The DPK secured 32% of the vote, while its previous coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo, won 25%. Claiming victory in the December poll, Thaçi said the elections were "a referendum on the European future of Kosovo".
However, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Kosovo, Austrian liberal MEP Ulrike Lunacek (ALDE), warned that the irregularities found by observers could harm its EU path and the ongoing visa liberalisation process.
The Austrian MEP, who said new elections should be considered, also blamed EU interior ministers for not keeping their promises regarding visa liberalisation, reported the Southeast European Times.
Citizens of Kosovo are now the only ones in the Western Balkans who need a visa to travel to the bloc. Restrictions on all the other aspirant EU members in the region have been lifted.