EU Kosovo mission steps up corruption crackdown

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EULEX, the EU's law enforcement mission in Kosovo, has carried out a string of high-profile arrests leading to charges against government officials in the former Serbian province, which declared its independence in 2008.

Kosovo's Special Prosecutor's Office yesterday (29 July) expanded an investigation of the governor of the Central Bank of Kosovo to include additional charges of "abusing official position" and "receiving bribes," EULEX said.

"The matter involves the issuing of operating licences in relation to insurance companies during the period 2006 to 2008," the EU's mission in Kosovo said in a statement.

Local media report that Central Bank Governor Hashim Rexhepi was arrested on 23 July in Pristina as part of a corruption investigation. Raids were conducted at the Central Bank's offices, a private company and private properties of four suspects, including Rexhepi.

EULEX said the searches began after information surfaced indicating abuse of power, bribery, tax evasion and money laundering.

Also on 29 July, EULEX reported having carried out searches of the private residence and office of an IT administrator in the Kosovo government related to an investigation of the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications.

As EURACTIV recently reported, a top official at Kosovo Post and Telecom, Shyqyri Haxha, was charged with "financial and corruption matters in connection to a telecommunications licence".

Last May, the coalition government in Kosovo almost fell as a result of a corruption scandal involving Transport Minister Fatmir Limaj, charged following raids carried out by EULEX (EURACTIV 12/05/10). That investigation is still ongoing.

War crimes also targeted

EULEX also carried out searches to investigate war crimes by the KLA, the Kosovo Liberation Army, a guerilla organisation which sought the separation of Kosovo from Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

According to the local press, EULEX police officers raided the home of Azem Syla, a former commander of KLA, on Wednesday (28 July) as part of an investigation into the so-called Bllaca case.

During a videotaped confession in November 2009, Nazim Bllaca, who has been charged by EULEX with murder, attempted murder, aggravated murder and organised crime, said he had acted as an accomplice to murder, torture and threatening action carried out by the Kosovo Intelligence Service, a faction believed to be close to the ruling Democratic Party.

Bllaca then confessed that some of the orders came from Syla. He was not at home during Wednesday's search, but is to appear before the Special Prosecutor next week.

EURACTIV asked analysts if the growing number of indictments of senior Kosovo officials by EULEX is a positive sign that the mission is functioning well, or a bad sign that the Kosovo authorities are very corrupt.

Agron Bajrami, editor of leading Kosovo newspaper Koha Ditore, said such problems were to be expected, as in his words Kosovo had not been ruled by law for the last 30 years.

"We are now trying to get things straight and I think that obviously there is a reason why with the Ahtisaari Plan there should be a supervised independence, because we do need help for this. I think that the EULEX mission should do exactly that: help," Bajrami said.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, nine years after the end of the 1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo became an international protectorate under a UN mandate, patrolled by NATO peacekeepers. 

Since its proclaimed independence, the two million-strong republic – 90% of which is composed of ethnic Albanians – has established many of the trappings of statehood, including a new constitution. 

More than 60 countries have recognised Kosovo, including the US and most EU member states except Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia. Serbia, backed by Russia, is staunchly opposed to Kosovo's independence. 

The EU deployed a rule of law mission, dubbed 'EULEX Kosovo', in December 2008 with the intention of taking over post-crisis management in the territory, which lies on the European continent. The aim of the operation is to assist and support the Kosovar authorities with the rule of law, specifically regarding the police, the judiciary and customs. 

The EULEX mission is the largest EU civilian mission ever launched. The 3,000-member mission was launched in December 2008 and has the power to take on cases that the local judiciary and police are unable to handle.

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