Kosovo’s Mafia: How the US and Allies Ignore Organized Crime Part 1

Published on Global Research.ca, by Matt McAllester and Jovo Martinovic, March 30, 2011.

… Protected by the United States?

One of the most frustrating examples of American power in the capital Pristina, say current and former U.N. officials and Western diplomats, was the influence American diplomats exerted over the supposedly independent U.N. prosecutor’s office in Kosovo.

“There was interference by the U.S. mission [to Kosovo] preventing effective investigation and prosecution of senior Kosovo officials,” said a U.N. official, who is in a position to know about the details of the United Nations’ law enforcement efforts during the time that it administered Kosovo, from 2000 to 2008. 

The official said that the senior Kosovo politicians were being investigated for being allegedly involved in organized crime, and that U.S. officials prevented searches of the suspects’ homes and in one case were involved with U.N. officials in preventing a sentence from being carried out. The U.N. official said that these phone calls were “well known” and deeply frustrated many of the international prosecutors who were working for the United Nations and wanted to prosecute these Kosovo officials.

On June 14, 2008, the most senior U.N. official in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, issued an executive decision suspending the prison term of a former KLA commander named Sami Lushtaku, who had been sentenced to a total of 11 months in prison. Lushtaku was mayor of a town named Skenderaj, where support for the KLA is strong. In his order, which GlobalPost has obtained, Ruecker notes that Lushtaku’s sentence would make him legally ineligible to be mayor and “such an outcome would be politically highly sensitive at this stage and contrary to the public interest.” It is unknown if American officials influenced Ruecker’s legal decision, but a former senior NATO official in Kosovo said that CIA officials in Kosovo had tried to prevent NATO soldiers from arresting Lushtaku prior to prosecution.

Other officials and former officials confirmed that the United States protected some senior political figures, including former KLA leaders close to Thaci, for the sake of creating the impression that Kosovo was a stable country with strong local leaders. The same officials and former officials said that other NATO and U.N. officials were often complicit in suppressing investigations, although many others were angry at the blocked investigations.

“When we talked to them [the former KLA commanders who are still very influential in Kosovo today] we all knew they lied to us and they knew that we knew they were lying but there was not much we could do thanks to politics and their patrons in D.C.,” a former NATO intelligence official who worked in Kosovo told GlobalPost. “They freely run prostitution, petrol smuggling, money laundering, racketeering, intimidation of LDK people [members of a rival political party, the Democratic League of Kosovo]. They get away with murder.

“The Americans were not making criminal investigations easy,” the former NATO intelligence official said. “In a couple of cases that I know of they wanted investigations to freeze because that ‘was not the right time to do it,’ according to them, so they just pulled the plug and there was nothing that we could do. It concerned the big fish.”

A former international monitor with connections to the U.N.’s mission in Kosovo said: “It got to the point where some of my prosecutor friends were told not to do this. One can understand if someone says wait. They might be told hold for a while. But for people to just flat out say ‘don’t you do this ever’ and to treat the prosecutor’s office as an extension of the political office — that’s where lines get blurred.”

The former monitor sat in on meetings involving U.S. diplomats in which they and U.N. officials discussed whether political considerations should prevent certain political figures from being investigated or arrested.

The sense that Thaci and his close associates are protected and untouchable has created what many observers in Kosovo describe as a sense of hopelessness. Thaci is building a large house in the capital, Pristina, and even if the money for the construction comes from legitimate sources many ordinary Kosovars, who are the poorest people in Europe, see the house as a symbol of arrogance and corruption.

“To me this is absolutely reprehensible,” Serwer said.

It is highly unlikely that Thaci would ever be prosecuted by a Kosovo court. “The police, public prosecutors and courts are erratic performers, prone to political interference and abuse of office,” the non-partisan International Crisis Group wrote in a report last year, echoing a view shared by many Kosovars, foreign governments and aid groups.

A GlobalPost reporter interviewed Kosovo’s chief of police, Reshat Maliqi, and asked him why he had not initiated an investigation into Thaci or ordered his officers to search for evidence, given the numerous allegations against the prime minister. “We didn’t try,” Maliqi said, “because someone needs to knock on my door” bringing evidence.

If anyone is to prosecute Thaci it would almost certainly have to be international prosecutors. Since 2008 EULEX has been the most powerful judicial force in Kosovo, which declared independence the same year. Thaci’s opponents and critics hope that EULEX prosecutors will aggressively investigate the prime minister.

A Western diplomat based in Kosovo confirmed to GlobalPost that EULEX had been quietly investigating Thaci for some time. And in January EULEX announced its prosecutors had opened a preleminary investigation into the organ-trafficking allegations in Marty’s report.

There are signs that Thaci’s friends in Washington are becoming increasingly embarrassed by the swirl of corruption and crime that surrounds him and other former KLA commanders.

When Thaci visited Biden in July, Biden was all smiles in public with Thaci but “hammered” him about corruption in their private meeting, according to someone with knowledge of the meeting. Thaci agreed with Biden that there was a problem and said he would try harder to stop corruption and crime in the Kosovo government.

And if Thaci wants to visit the United States again it is now unlikely that he would ever be able to obtain a U.S. visa other than a diplomatic visa, which grants him immunity, U.S. government sources told GlobalPost. The United States does not generally allow foreign nationals into the country when there are unresolved allegations of human rights abuses against them. Thaci has told associates that he is now concerned about traveling overseas because he fears being arrested in a foreign country.

Thaci remains by far the most powerful politician in Kosovo. But if the United States were to withdraw support for him, or for his country, Kosovo would be plunged into political chaos that some people believe would lead to the break-up of the country. Such chaos also comes with a danger of resumed ethnic hostilities.

“At one point the United States is going to say you don’t deserve a country,” said Engjellushe Morina, executive director of the Kosovo Stability Initiative think-tank in Pristina. “Some of Kosovo will go to Albania and some will go to Serbia. It would be a disaster for that to happen. We so badly wanted a state and we didn’t know how to run a state.” (full long text).

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