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Investigation 23 Dec 13

Kosovo: Shadowy Funds Raise Corruption Fears

More than 1.7 million euro was raised by private funds to support Kosovo’s war crimes defendants in The Hague, but they never made public exactly how the money was spent.

Edona Peci
BIRN
Pristina
Fatmir Limaj and supporters in Pristina. Photo: BIRN

The Kosovo government did not pay anything directly to help the six former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters indicted for war crimes defend themselves at the Hague Tribunal, only laying out a relatively meagre total of 16,750 euro for a welcome-home celebration for some of its acquitted suspects.

But the two most prominent men who were accused by the international court, Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj, who both went into politics and held high office after the war, received large sums from opaque private funds established to support them in The Hague.

BIRN tracked the money flow into funds established for post-war Prime Minister Haradinaj, who is currently head of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, and for former transport minister Limaj, who is now a lawmaker with the ruling Kosovo Democratic Party.

BIRN’s calculations suggest that Haradinaj’s fund gathered more than 1,500,000 euro and Limaj’s attracted at least 212,000 euro – but the real amounts could have been even higher.

Because the funds published no accounts, it is also not possible to be certain whether all the money that was donated by the public in response to TV-advertised appeals was actually spent on the two men’s legal teams.

Public pledges for Limaj

Limaj, Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala were the first former KLA fighters to be indicted by the ICTY after the conflict ended.

“Through nationalistic discourse, the public was quite driven and sensitised to give money … but never knew where those funds went.”

Nora Ahmetaj, Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication

 

In January 2003, the Tribunal charged them with participating in a joint criminal enterprise with the alleged aim of intimidating, assaulting, jailing or killing Serb civilians and perceived Albanian collaborators who refused to cooperate with or resisted the KLA.

Limaj and Musliu were acquitted of all charges in September 2007, while Bala was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

All three initially applied for the legal aid which is offered to impecunious defendants by the ICTY, but Limaj’s situation changed when a large amount of money was collected for him through a phone-line appeal which was advertised on Kosovo TV, appealing to people to donate money to help support their wartime hero.

The ICTY initially assigned British lawyer Karim Khan as counsel to Limaj in March 2003, but ended the arrangement after a few months, saying that “the total amount collected by the [Limaj] fund until October 8, 2003 is by far sufficient to cover all expenses of the defence for the remainder of the pre-trial stage”.

In its decision, the Tribunal cited a press release from the Coordination Office for the Defence of Fatmir Limaj, which said the fund had raised $291,594.92 [approximately 212,000 euro].

But in July 2004, Limaj’s defence reapplied for legal aid, submitting a new financial declaration and claiming that the fund “has been exhausted and that it is no longer available to him to pay his defence before the Tribunal”.

After analysing Limaj’s finances, the ICTY’s registrar decided that “the accused is partially eligible for legal aid” and agreed to pay half his costs for the remaining part of the trial.

But suspicions were raised in Kosovo about how the Limaj fund’s resources were raised and used after Karim Khan remained his lawyer in two separate cases against him that followed his Hague acquittal, the Klecka detention centre war crimes case and the Kosovo Post-Telecommunication Ministry corruption case.

Although the fund was closed, Limaj still had the money to pay three lawyers, British attorney Khan and two Albanians, Tome Gashi and Tahir Rrecaj. Their payments were never made public.

Kosovo newspaper Koha Ditore reported in January 2013 that the EU prosecutor’s indictment in the telecoms corruption case alleged that the money Limaj paid for his defence in the Klecka case could have been raised illegally. However Limaj’s lawyers insisted that the cash was generated legally through a land sale.

Cash pours in for Haradinaj

In the second major Kosovo case at the ICTY, Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj were charged in March 2005 with war crimes against civilians.

Unlike his co-accused, Haradinaj did not apply for legal aid, but like Limaj, he was supported by an appeal fund.

In May 2005, two members of his Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party, Jahja Lluka and Ethem Ceku, alongside one former minister is his administration, Astrit Haraqia, established the Committee for the Defence of Ramush Haradinaj and opened a bank account for people to pay in money. Again, a telephone donation system was used, and again it was well-advertised on Kosovo television.

Private appeal funds for Kosovo indictees

Fatmir Limaj at least 212,000 euro raised

(Source: Coordination Office for the Defence of Fatmir Limaj, via ICTY)

Ramush Haradinaj more than 1,500,000 euro raised

(Source: Kosovo court case)

 

But the other two, less well-known men accused alongside Haradinaj could not call on such public support, meaning that they could only mount weaker defences, said Behxhet Shala, executive director of Kosovo’s Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms.

“While it was easy for Haradinaj to ensure money, it was much more difficult for his co-accused. It was clear discrimination which we criticised by asking the government to take over the expenses needed for the defence of the accused,” said Shala.

The Haradinaj fund however soon came under investigation and three people were indicted for corruption in connection with its methods.

Jahja Lluka from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party, Milazim Abazi, director of Kasabank, and Hashim Sejdiu, manager of the Kasabank branch in Pristina, were charged with false statements or reports, unlawful acceptance of contributions and failure to report transactions.

Abazi and Sejdiu were acquitted in 2010, but Lluka was found guilty, fined 10,000 euro and given a ten-month suspended jail sentence, which was later reduced to nine months on appeal.

“The Kosovo government should have contributed all it could in support of our former comrades.”

Muharrem Xhemajl, War Veterans Association

 

The court found that between August 2005 and November 2006, Lluka had deposited over 1,500,000 euro for the Haradinaj fund in a series of different transactions at Kasabank.

But, like Limaj’s fund, no accounts were published to assure donors that their money had been properly spent.

Although the names of the people contributing to the Haradinaj fund were never made public, Behxhet Shala said he was convinced “some businessmen who contributed financially to the funds were paid off later by tenders or other financial favours”.

Emotional propaganda about defending the nation’s wartime liberators was the spur for people to donate their money to the funds, which suffered from a “lack of transparency”, said Nora Ahmetaj, executive director of the Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication.

“Through nationalistic discourse, the public was quite driven and sensitised to give money for the defence of Limaj, Haradinaj and others,” Ahmetaj said.

“But the public never knew where those funds went and how much money was really spent. No one was responsible for the amount of money collected and the outgoing of those funds,” she said.

In April 2008, Haradinaj and Balaj were acquitted of all charges after a three-year trial. Brahimaj was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for cruel treatment and torture.

A partial retrial followed, and in November last year, all three men were declared not guilty and set free.

A party, but no payments

Unlike other countries in the region, the Kosovo government did not financially support the ex-KLA fighters while they were on trial at the ICTY.

In July 2003, the government decided to “make a request to the Economic and Fiscal Council in order to ensure money for the defence fund of those accused by the International Tribunal in The Hague”, according to documents seen by BIRN.

A similar request was made in March 2005 by then Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi.

The government decided to “establish a committee for professional, legal and financial help in the process of the Hague Tribunal for the ex-prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj”.

But government permanent secretary Fitim Krasniqi told BIRN that “these decisions were never implemented”.

Some have claimed that government bodies illegally and covertly made donations to the Haradinaj fund.

“It was mentioned several times that phone calls made to the Haradinaj Fund were made by Kosovo institutions,” said Bekim Blakaj, executive director at the Humanitarian Law Centre.

But such claims were never proven.

The only official support for any of Kosovo’s Hague defendants came in December 2012, when the government decided to allocate 16,750 euro on the “welcome [celebration] for Ramush Haradinaj and his comrades acquitted by the Hague Tribunal”.

Muharrem Xhemajl, head of the War Veterans Association, said he believed that the state should have done more to support Haradinaj and Limaj financially.

“Several times we have urged the need for the state - and not organisations or private persons - to deal with this issue in order to prevent the mismanagement or manipulations which can occur,” Xhemajli said.

“The Kosovo government should have contributed all it could in support of our former comrades,” he insisted.

But while the ICTY defendants were feted as heroes and money poured in to help them win their freedom, the victims of the war were all but forgotten, said the Humanitarian Law Centre’s Blakaj.

“I have never heard about a case in which victims were given reparations; the public doesn’t know the victims and in fact it is not interested in knowing them,” Blakaj said.

“In most cases, the accused have the main role, and in the end, they end up being glorified,” he concluded.

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