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Do you remember those warm spring days of 2010 when a fresh wind of optimism swept through Pristina?
On the blossom-scented breeze came dreams that the powerful could be held to account for their corrupt actions, and that the EU’s mission in Kosovo, EULEX, could deliver justice.
Since those heady days, little suggests that those dreams were anything but that. And in the next few weeks, those dreams may finally disappear.
Back in April 2010, EULEX had embarked on its first high-profile raids, targeting the Ministry of Transport and, in particular the then Minister of Transport, Fatmir Limaj.
It had been the worst-kept police operation in the history of police operations. The whole city knew Mr Limaj was under investigation, but disagreements within the ruling diploma-archy were delaying action.
At some point, we thought, EULEX would come knocking at his door...
When it finally happened, many senior figures in Limaj’s party – Jakup Krasniqi and Hashim Thaci included – were quick to dismiss the operation as some sort of show for the cameras.
But the fearless prosecutor, Johannes Van Vreeswijk, who was leading the case for EULEX, immediately hit back in a most extraordinary interview.
In intemperate tones he told the Koha Ditore journalist that there was a strong case against Limaj, outlined in some details the charges, attacked the Prime Minister for meddling, and then warned:
“Everybody who is involved in organised crime and corruption should start sweating. And if they are involved, let they stop from today.”
This guy, I thought, clearly means business.
In the following days, I sensed renewed optimism – albeit tempered by years of disappointment. A fake street sign in Van Vreeswijk’s honour was even installed in central Pristina and we tentatively toasted the dawn of a new age.
The event’s significance was that a very senior political figure was being held to account for alleged wrongdoing. The specifics of who he was and the party he served did not signify.
Whoever you are, if you are corrupt you should be sweating.
But with the two years-deadline for a case to reach the indictment-stage looming, the bravado of Van Vreeswijk seems more like two decades ago.
Evidence has proved extremely hard to come by and we should not be surprised if this particular investigation simply fizzles out after the initial bang. Misters Thaci and Krasniqi will no doubt take some pleasure that their initial assessment was correct – the raid may prove to be just show.
Things could then get worse. Another keynote EULEX investigation, the Klecka prison war crimes case again involving Fatmir Limaj, is also at grave risk of collapse at around the same time because of a major administrative cock-up.
The prosecution’s star witness had signed off his testimony only in a language he did not understand – English. With Agim Zogaj now dead, EULEX has no second chance to get this one right.
EULEX is being reshaped at the moment, its budget cut, staff shed, and its mission refocused on the executive functions – investigating, prosecuting and judging sensitive cases such as high-level corruption and war crimes.
The current chief, Xavier de Marnhac, will leave with the start of EULEX’s new, “leaner and meaner” mandate in June.
He risks leaving an organisation demoralised from the collapse of two of its most important cases and wondering where to go next.
It is likely that whoever drinks from the poisoned chalice of leading the next EULEX instalment will be sweating just as much as the corrupt politicians the mission is supposed to be putting behind bars.
The Hague Tribunal has been successful in bringing wartime commanders to justice but hasn’t met expectations on reconciliation, chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told BIRN.