Profile 11 Oct 08

The Drenica Group

Crime gang allegedly headed by Prime Minister Thaci is said to have run a range of mafia-like enterprises, from cigarette smuggling to trafficking in organs.

According to a leaked intelligence report and the recent report of Dick Marty, the Council of Europe rapporteur, the so-called Drenica Group - made up mostly of former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army - has been involved in a range of organised crime activities since the late 1990s.

These range from money laundering, smuggling in drugs and cigarettes, people trafficking and prostitution to the forced monopolisation of the largest sectors of the Kosovo economy, including vehicle fuel and construction.But the most serious accusations say the group was also involved in harvesting the organs of prisoners captured in the Kosovo conflict. 

The allegations are strenuously denied by all of those named as involved and none has faced criminal proceedings over them. The charges of drugs smuggling, racketeering and other wrongdoing have been harder to shake off.

According to Marty, prominent KLA personalities, including Kadri Veseli, Azem Syla, Fatmir Limaj, Xhavit Haliti and Hashmi Thaci - now Kosovo’s Prime Minister - styled themselves the “Drenica Group”. Thaci was its head. Drenica is the central area of Kosovo from where the KLA hails.

According to a leaked 2005 report of the German secret service, the BundesNachrichtenDienst, or BND, published by WikiLeaks, Kosovo is split into three organised crime zones: Drenica in the centre, Dukagjini in the west, and Llap in the east.

The Drenica region is controlled by the so-called Drenica Group, according to the BND report. “Thaci closely cooperates with organised crime structures in Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Czech Republic,” it said.

“According to well-substantiated intelligence reports that we have examined thoroughly and corroborated through interviews in the course of our inquiry… the Drenica Group built a formidable power base in the organised criminal enterprises that were flourishing in Kosovo and Albania at the time,” Marty’s report said, referring to the late 1990s and early 2000s.

According to intelligence reports seen by Marty from agencies dedicated to combating drugs smuggling in at least five countries, the Drenica Group controlled the trade in heroin and other narcotics. 

“In several instances, this group was allegedly able to strike deals with established international networks of organised criminals, enabling expansion and diversification into new areas of ‘business’, and the opening of new smuggling routes into other parts of Europe,” Marty wrote.

Members of the group are also said to have assumed control of substantial funds placed at the disposal of the KLA to support Kosovo’s war effort. 

Shaip Muja, according to Marty, was close to the group and was “one of an elite group of KLA co-ordinators based in Albania”.

According to Marty, Muja played a crucial role in the organ harvesting of KLA prisoners that allegedly took place in Fushe Kruje, on the outskirts of Tirana.

“We have uncovered numerous convergent indications of Muja’s central role for more than a decade in far less laudable international networks, comprising human traffickers, brokers of illicit surgical procedures and other perpetrators of organised crime,” Marty wrote.

Kadri Veseli

Senior KLA figure responsible for running SHIK, the KLA’s, and then the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK’s, paralegal secret service. It has been blamed for a series of political murders. Although it claimed to have disbanded in 2008, many believe it continues to function. He has remained outside politics.

Xhavit Haliti

A senior KLA figure during the Kosovo conflict involved in running funds funneled to the frontline. According to Marty and the BND report, he has played a senior role in the Drenica Group’s illegal activities, which he denies. He has been reelected to the Kosovo assembly, where he was head of the PDK caucus in parliament. Azem SylaSyla is under investigation by EULEX for his role in the paralegal secret service, SHIK, concerning politically motivated murders. He has not been charged. He won the third highest number of votes for the PDK in the December 12 general elections - his first attempt to enter parliament.

Shaip Muja

A senior KLA figure during the conflict, he has since cultivated his position as a doctor. Until the general election last year he was Thaci’s health advisor. He has recently been elected to parliament as the eighth most popular PDK member.According to his declaration of assets, he has amassed a considerable fortune, with business connections to a number of firms, ranging from pharmaceutical to minerals. Marty said he played a key role in the harvesting of organs during the conflict. He denies the allegation.

Click here for the profile of Fatmir Limaj and Hashim Thaci

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The Drenica Group

Crime gang allegedly headed by Prime Minister Thaci is said to have run a range of mafia-like enterprises, from cigarette smuggling to trafficking in organs.

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