Analysis 06 Dec 13

Crime Allegations Shadow Kosovo’s ‘Drenica Group’

Fifteen former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas from the so-called Drenica Group have gone on trial for alleged war crimes, but some have also been accused of post-conflict corruption.

Edona Peci

The EU rule-of-law mission to Kosovo, EULEX, is prosecuting 15 former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for alleged war crimes against civilian detainees – but these are just some of a series of accusations that have been levelled against members of the KLA’s wartime ‘Drenica Group’ cell.

BIRN has learned that some of them have also been accused of post-war corruption, including involvement in bribe-taking, the misuse of official authority and violations of legal procedures in public procurement.

A few of the suspects in the Drenica Group case have high-profile jobs; they include Pristina’s ambassador to Tirana, Sylejman Selimi, who is also Kosovo’s former security forces commander, and the mayor of the town of Skenderaj/Srbica, Sami Lushtaku.

Some of the accused are also suspected of maintaining criminal links with Kosovo politicians which date back to their war against Serbian forces in 1998-99, when they fought in the Drenica area of Kosovo which gave their cell its name.

The 15 men are accused of torturing and mistreating prisoners at a KLA detention centre in Likovc/Likovac in 1998. Their lawyers have denied the charges.

The other accused are: Agim Demaj, Bashkim Demaj, Driton Demaj, Selman Demaj, Fadil Demaku, Jahir Demaku, Nexhat Demaku, Zeqir Demaku, Sabit Geci, Ismet Haxha, Sahit Jashari, Isni Thaçi and Avni Zabeli.

Land grabs and bribes

One of the suspects, Fadil Demaku, now an MP from the Kosovo Democratic Party, said in his property declaration to the Kosovo Anti-Corruption Agency in 2013 that his assets were worth 239,000 euro and his annual salary was 23,500 euro.

But in his declaration of property made to the agency in 2011, he said that he earned an annual salary of 6,000 euro from a private company called Ada Consulting Group.

According to a 2011 report by the Kosovo’s general auditor, Ada Consulting Group had a 170,000 euro contract to restore KLA fighters’ graves in the town of Mitrovica but improperly kept at least 18,000 euro of the money by using substandard materials and by not finishing the work.

However Demaku denies working for the company after becoming an MP.

Another of those accused in the war crimes case is Nexhat Demaku, mayor of the municipality of Drenas/Gllogovac and the brother of Fadil Demaku.

Nexhat Demaku has been indicted for misusing his official authority over a land rights case in the municipality.

According to the indictment, he and two other men refused to enact an order from Kosovo’s state agency that deals with land and property rights, which obliged them to accept that two men in the village of Citakova had the right to four hectares of land which the municipality was claiming as its own.

Another defendant in the Drenica Group case, Bashkim Demaj, a former bodyguard to Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, was arrested earlier this year in a suspected corruption case related to the privatisation of state-owned land.

Three men are alleged to have paid a 200,000 euro bribe to Demaj and Hamdi Thaci, one of the prime minister’s cousins, to help them to buy the land, according to newspaper Koha Ditore.

Demaj and Hamdi then allegedly pressurised Kosovo Privatisation Agency officials to allow the sale in May 2009, the newspaper claimed, although no indictment has yet been raised in the case because investigations are continuing.

Organised crime claims

Other members of the Drenica Group are being investigated by EULEX prosecutor Clint Williamson, the head of a special investigation team looking into alleged organ trafficking by wartime guerrillas in Kosovo.

The investigation focuses on allegations made in a report to the Council of Europe by Swiss human rights rapporteur Dick Marty.

Marty’s report in December 2010 accused former KLA fighters, including Prime Minister Thaci, of involvement in organised crime and said they were involved in harvesting the organs of Serbian prisoners and others in Albania.

According to Marty, Thaci was the head of the Drenica Group, although this has never been proven.

The Drenica Group was also mentioned in a 2005 report on organised crime in Kosovo by the German secret service, the BundesNachrichtenDienst, which also alleged that Thaci was its leader.

“Thaci closely cooperates with organised crime structures in Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Czech Republic,” the report claimed.

So far, no one has been prosecuted in connection with these allegations.

Meanwhile, the most high-profile of the Drenica Group accused, ambassador Selimi, also went on trial in a separate war crimes case in the northern town of Mitrovica on November 27, alongside three other defendants.

Selimi is accused of repeatedly assaulting two ethnic Albanian women who were being held at the KLA detention centre in Likovc/Likovac. His lawyer said the charges were false.

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