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analysis 18 Feb 13

Austria and Albania Probe Hospital Sex Abuse Claims

Authorities in Austria and Tirana are investigating allegations that an Albanian student was sexually abused after waking up from a coma following a tragic bus accident.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
The bus crash killed 13 people and injured 20 | Photo by AP

Two parallel investigations are now underway after the family of 23-year-old Florije Peci alleged that she became pregnant as a result of a sex attack at the Austrian clinic where she was being treated after the bus crash last year.

Peci, a student at the Aleksander Xhuvani University in Elbasan, was severely injured in the crash near the town of Himara in southern Albania on May 22, 2012. The bus fell off an 80-metre-high cliff, killing 13 people and injuring 20 others.

After the accident, the 23-year-old student fell into a coma and was transferred to the Neurologisches Therapiezentrum Gmundnerberg rehabilitation clinic in the Austrian town of Gmunden for specialist treatment.

However, following her return to Albania, her family claimed that she was sexually assaulted and made pregnant while she was receiving treatment in Austria.

Peci is currently being treated at Tirana’s Queen Geraldine Maternity Hospital and doctors have declared that both the mother and unborn child are in a stable condition.

Prosecutors in the town of Wels in Austria told Balkan Insight that they have sequestered the victim’s medical history and are waiting for more information from their Albanian counterparts, in order to determine whether the alleged crime happened on their territory or after the victim returned home.

Meanwhile their counterparts in Tirana have drawn up a list of people to be questioned and are seeking to determine the exact date when the victim was impregnated.   

On February 6, the victim’s brother, Gazmend Peci, send a letter to the general prosecutor’s office in Albania, asking for an investigation after doctors discovered his sister’s pregnancy. On Thursday he wrote an open letter to local media, detailing the allegations of abuse.

In the letter, Peci said that he believes that his sister was sexually assaulted between 20-25 September, 2012 at Neurologisches Therapiezentrum Gmundnerberg in Austria.

Albi Serjani, a spokesperson for the general prosecutor’s office in Tirana, told Balkan Insight that the case has been transferred to the Tirana prosecutor’s office and is currently in its initial stages.

“The Tirana prosecutor’s office is intensely working on the case and on Monday or Tuesday will question the victim’s brother, while prosecutors have drawn up a list of ten ‘people of interest’ who will also be questioned as part of the investigation,” he said.  

According to Serjani, the focus of the Tirana prosecutor’s probe currently remains in Albania.

“We are working with the hospital to determine the exact time when the victim was impregnated and are also checking her movements in and outside the country,” Serjani added.

Dr. Christian Humber, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office in the town of Wels in Upper Austria told Balkan Insight that they also have launched an investigation in cooperation with the criminal police after being sent the allegations from the embassy in Tirana on Thursday.

“We have sequestered the whole medical history of the victim from the clinic and are looking into it in order to get information, hoping that we can find some important clues,” Humber said.  

According to Humber, the probe in Austria has been launched under article 205 of the penal code, which covers sexual abuse toward victims with disabilities. However, the Austrian authorities are not yet sure that the abuse happened while Peci was in Austria.

“The first information we got from Albania from the embassy was that the assault might have happened from the start of October to the end of October. For most of this period of time, the victim was not in Austria, because she left on October 11,” Humber said.

In a statement for Balkan Insight, the Neurologisches Therapiezentrum Gmundnerberg confirmed that it had treated Peci but declined to comment on the allegations due to the ongoing investigation.

“We confirm that Ms. Florije Peci stayed in our clinic for treatment and we are working closely together with the authorities and support the investigation,” said the head doctor at the clinic, Dr. Hermann Moser.

Allegations that Peci was abused during her treatment at the Austrian clinic are clouded by the fact that family members were by her side during the period that her brother claims the sexual assault occurred.

Florije’s sister, Erida Peci, shared a room with her at the Austrian clinic from August 4 until she left Austria on October 11. Meanwhile Peci’s brother, Gazmend, stayed at a pension close to the hospital from June 19, 2012 until July 25, 2012.

Apart from hospital staff and family members, the only other people who were in close contact with Peci in Austria were a Kosovo Albanian couple, Basri and Arjana Jashari. The Jasharis live in the town of Attnang Puchheim, close to Gmunded where Peci was treated.

The couple helped with translation at the hospital while raising funds for Peci’s brother and sister’s visits with the help of an Austrian NGO, One World for All.

Both Gazemend Peci and Erida Peci did not respond to several requests from Balkan Insight for interviews. The Jasharis also refused to comment on the case.    

Adelheid Wölfl, South East Europe correspondent for the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard, contributed reporting for this story.

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