Kosovo PM is ‘big fish’ in organised crime: NATO

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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.

Election concerns

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.

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly adopted on 25 January a resolution on organ trafficking in Kosovo, in which it says specifically regarding EULEX:

  • The member states of the European Union and the other contributing states are invited to clarify the competences of EULEX and/or any other international judicial bodies mandated to conduct follow-up investigations, such that their territorial and temporal jurisdiction is recognised as encompassing all criminal acts linked to the conflict in Kosovo;
  • Member states are called to allocate to EULEX the resources that it needs, in terms of logistics and highly skilled staff, to deal with the extraordinarily complex and important role entrusted to it;
  • Member states are called to set EULEX a clear objective and give it political support at the highest level to combat organised crime uncompromisingly, and to ensure that justice is done, without any considerations of political expediency;
  • Member states are called to commit all the resources needed to set up effective witness protection programmes;
  • EULEX is called to persevere with its investigative work, without taking any account of the offices held by possible suspects or of the origin of the victims, doing everything it can to cast light on the criminal disappearances, the indications of organ trafficking, corruption and the collusion so often complained of between organised criminal groups and political circles; 
  • EULEX is called to take every measure necessary to ensure effective protection for witnesses and gain their trust.

Kosovo, the smallest Balkan nation, seceded from Serbia in 2008, nine years after the end of the 1998-1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo became an international protectorate patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.

After Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008, the two million-strong republic, 90% of whose population is ethnic Albanian, established many of the trappings of statehood including a new constitution, army, national anthem, flag, passports, identity cards and an intelligence agency. 

Most EU countries, except Spain, Greece, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia, have recognised the independence of Kosovo. From all UN members, 69 have recognised Kosovo so far.

On October 2009, the United Nations approved Serbia's request to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) whether Kosovo's secession from Serbia was legal. On 22 July 2010 the ICJ delivered its ruling, which was ambiguous in many ways, but still said that Kosovo did not violate international law when it claimed secession from Serbia.

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