Allegations of corruption shake EU mission in Kosovo

BELGRADE, BRUSSELS -- Instead of introducing legal standards of their countries to Kosovo, international prosecutors and judges serving there "have adopted local ways."

(Beta, file)
(Beta, file)

According to the Belgrade-based Politika daily, "the falsification of evidence against Oliver Ivanović" is one proof of this.

The first blow suffered by the EU mission in Kosovo, EULEX, was when Albanian language daily Koha Ditore on Monday reported that British prosecutor Maria Bamieh "obtained evidence that two senior officials of the EULEX mission received bribes to dismiss at least three major criminal cases."

According to the report, "the Task Force Against Corruption eavesdropped on participants in several criminal operations when they intercepted conversations of chief EULEX prosecutor, Jaroslava Novotna, and President of the Assembly of EULEX Judges Francesco Flori, who met with various intermediaries in order to cover up serious crimes."

The two officials have denied these accusations.

The report noted that "it is believed that they contributed to the closure of criminal proceedings against prominent former KLA commander and later minister Fatmir Limaj, as well as former Secretary General of the Kosovo Ministry of Health Ilir Tolaja," and in the case concerning the explosion in a bar owned by Enver Sekiraqa, where the suspects included "members of a special Kosovo police unit."

Prosecutor Maria Bamieh "collected concrete evidence against the two officials, but also against former Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Special Prosecution of Kosovo Jonathan Ratel, who allegedly interfered in the investigation against Novotna and Flori," writes the paper.

However, instead of gaining recognition "for her conscientious and responsible work" Bamieh is being punished, said the daily, adding that "procedures were launched against her for a parking violation and her daughter's arrivals to the office of the prosecutor."

Politika quoted unnamed sources from "international circles in Kosovo" as saying that procedures against Fatmir Limaj have been "particularly unsuccessful" as well as witness protection in these and other cases.

The article quoted a statement of former Council of Europe Rapporteur Dick Marty, who investigated allegations that the KLA kidnapped Serb civilians and traded in their organs, as saying he would "not disclose any sensitive information such as the identity of witnesses and their statements until there are absolute guarantees that the information will be strictly guarded."

In particular, said the newspaper, Marty mentioned the inability of EULEX and UNMIK to develop instruments for implementing the protection of identity of witnesses or to prevent leaks of intelligence reports.

"Unrelated"

EULEX suspended one of its staff members before media reports of alleged corruption among the mission's top officials were published, and it is a separate case, unrelated to a suspected disclosure of information, says Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson of EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

The person had been suspended before all this was published, and EULEX did it with full discretion, but it is a separate case and there is no direct link, Kocijancic said when asked by a reporter to explain why EULEX has suspended a person suspected of having disclosed secret information to journalists even though the presumption of innocence also applies to the European rule of law mission in Kosovo.

Commenting on the reports about corruption among top EULEX officials, published by the Priština-based Koha Ditore daily, Kocijancic said in a press release on Wednesday that Brussels is aware of the reports, but that the legal principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty also applies to EULEX.

Asked how persons suspected of corruption have survived a restructuring of the EULEX mission while someone with a flawless track record regarding corruption has been suspended, Kocijancic said on Thursday that she cannot make comments about persons named in press reports while the investigation is underway, but noted that the restructuring of the mission is a separate process.

A restructuring of the mission is clearly underway as a separate process and it is a result of a long analysis in cooperation with the Kosovo authorities, because the mission will not stay in Kosovo forever, she said.

Asked by a reporter to reveal who has been suspended and why, she reiterated that she cannot comment on an investigation that is underway.

She echoed Wednesday's press release, in which she said that her service is monitoring closely the developments in Kosovo regarding present and former EULEX officials.

We also confirmed that EULEX and Kosovo's judicial authorities have been conducting a joint investigation into these accusations since 2013, Kocijancic said.

We are taking action with all means available, and an investigation is underway, she noted.

For several days, the Koha Ditore daily has been publishing reports accusing several senior EULEX officials of having taken bribe to protect some Kosovo politicians and associated individuals from prosecution for corruption or even murder.

When Koha ditore started publishing the reports, EULEX suspended British prosecutor Maria Bamieh on suspicion of leaking secret information to media and threatened to criminally prosecute the daily's journalists.

Both Bamieh and the Koha Ditore journalists say that she was not the source of the information published by the daily.

Bamieh has announced that she is ready to publicize a series of documents that would expose corruption within EULEX in a WikiLeaks-type revelation unless she is returned to work.