In Kosovo, the hope of wringing the neck of corruption

Wednesday February 24, 2021, large police raid in Pristina as well as in several municipalities of Kosovo, within the agency for the development of agriculture, suspected of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. Twelve people, including ten officials, were arrested, € 400,000 in cash, cars and computers were seized.

“I live right next to the agency, I saw this net live”, reports Agron Demi, political scientist at the GAP institute. “Once or twice a year the police make spectacular arrests. We would like to believe that Kosovo fights against corruption and organized crime but, in fine, each judgment, when it exists, is a huge disappointment ”, laments the political scientist, citing the latest court decisions.

Five days earlier, the former minister of infrastructure Pal Lekaj, of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party (AAK, one of the three parties resulting from the war, mistreated during the elections of February 14), convicted of abuse of power in the distribution of subsidies when he was mayor of Djakova, had been sentenced to one year and six months in prison suspended.

“When there are convictions, they are symbolic”

But, even more, the double series of acquittals, last January, of the twelve defendants in the veterans case, and the eleven defendants in the Pronto case, left Agron Demi speechless. Former ministers and deputies were involved. They were, for some, accused of having falsified and artificially inflated to nearly 50,000 the number of veterans who could receive a state pension, while they had been estimated between 16,000 and 25,000 at the end of the war in 1999. Others were accused of having placed people close to the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) at the head of state enterprises and institutions.

However, the supporting elements were not lacking. The “Pronto” case – from the Italian word by which former president Hashim Thaçi, now prosecuted for war crimes, answered the phone to members of the PDK – was based on wiretaps carried out by Eulex, the rule of law mission of the European Union in Kosovo, when it still had an operational mandate. Elez Blakaj, the prosecutor who had raised the hare on the expansionist list of veterans and its cost in the state budget, ended up resigning in 2018 and leaving the country after suffering pressure and threats.

Shaip Havolli, the director of the anti-corruption agency, does not hide his annoyance: “When there are convictions, they are symbolic, suspended prison sentences or fines, and the agency does not have the right to appeal the convictions.”

“The election was a real democratic revolution”

“Paying fake combatants, granting positions, it was a way of controlling the electorate, of securing the vote of hundreds of thousands of people! “, indignant the deputy Haki Abazi, of the party Vetëvendosje (VV, “Self-determination”), which made a tidal wave in the legislative elections of last February 14th.

For the first time, the Kosovars punished at the ballot box the three parties resulting from the fighters of the war, the PDK of Hashim Thaci, the Kosovo Democratic League (LDK) of Isa Mustafa and the AAK of Ramush Haradinaj, all accused for having captured state property for twenty years.

In Kosovo, the hope of wringing the neck of corruption

“People are tired of this corruption and nepotism, the massive diversion of the economy has prevented the country from evolving, fortunes have been built with privatizations, tenders and the import of products “, denounces Haki Abazi, who promises a major change. “The election was a real democratic revolution, it is our fall of the Berlin Wall for the Balkan region. The diaspora came from all over the world to make a difference in Kosovo. They will change! “

For now, thanks to political instability – five elections in eleven years – and the grip of the PDK, the AAK and the LDK on the country, the fight has been weakly waged. Transparency International has consistently pushed the country down according to its corruption perception index: 93e rang en 2018, 101e in 2019, 104e in 2020. “Look at this forest of buildings growing in Pristina, in a poor country like Kosovo, there is money laundering, but we let it happen”, denounces Florent Spahija of the Democratic Institute of Kosovo, branch of Transparency International.

“We have good laws”

In the heart of Pristina, the Grand Hotel, emblem of the past grandeur of Yugoslavia, where the then nomenklatura converged, has become the symbol of this high-level corruption that plagues the country. Its large carcass suffers the ravages of time, entangled in interminable legal disputes since its privatization in 2006. Over the course of this series, the director of the privatization agency was stabbed several times in 2012, and his death classified as suicide. “This case has never been clarified”, recalls Florent Spahija.

In Kosovo, the hope of wringing the neck of corruption

The inertia of justice, at the same time submerged, incompetent and under the influence, makes the NGO Fol leap (“Speaks”). “We demand access to public documents on a highway built for an exorbitant price for the region, our case has been brought before the courts for eleven years now, sighs Mexhide Demolli, director of the NGO. We have good laws, written on European models, but in practice their application is blocked. ”

→ EXPLANATION. In Kosovo, sticks in the wheels of change

Despite a particularly active civil society. We can no longer count the NGOs, investigative journalists and think tanks that monitor the functioning of the Kosovar justice system. Not without risk. Visar Duriqi, a journalist at the Insajderi investigation site, known for his corruption investigations, was violently attacked by three hooded men outside his home on the evening of February 24. The European Center for Press Freedom has expressed concern about “The increase in violence against journalists in Kosovo”.

“The diaspora, our immense intellectual and financial wealth”

“At least in Kosovo, thanks to permanent monitoring of the justice system, we have a fairly clear view of the situation. This is not the case in neighboring countries ”, notes Labinot Leposhtica, from the NGO Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (Birn). According to him, one of the preferred strategies consists of dragging out cases, annulling judgments for sometimes intentional procedural errors. “ When you steal the state, you leave it free. The cases end up being closed ”, he accuses.

Of the 500 judges and prosecutors in office, Florent Spahija believes that “A hundred are corrupt, three hundred incompetent, the hundred who are efficient see their work hindered because of the 400 others”. “So, for sure, we have to clean the system”, he judges. This vast clean hands operation is the major promise of the charismatic Albin Kurti, who is preparing to form his government. All magistrates will have to undergo a process of verification of their integrity in order to be able to exercise.

→ READ. In Albania, a “clean hands” operation in European colors

“Many will refuse to submit and will have to resign, as was the case in Albania, pronostique Labinot Leposhtica. The challenge will be to succeed in this process that the whole country is waiting for, without permanently paralyzing justice. “ “Four prosecutors currently in Switzerland are ready to come back to set up this new system, specifies Haki Abazi. The diaspora is our immense intellectual and financial wealth, which will help us rebuild the country. “

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A new political deal

Self-determination (“Autodétermination”), Albin Kurti’s party won 47.8% of the vote in the early parliamentary elections on February 14. This score should be revised upwards with the integration of votes from the diaspora.

This left-wing sovereignist reformist party will for the first time be able to govern the country. But he must first secure broad support in Parliament to ensure the appointment to the presidency of the country of Vjosa Osmani. She has held the interim post since the resignation of President Hashim Thaçi, imprisoned in The Hague for war crimes. Otherwise the country will have to return to the polls.

The war parties in opposition

The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Hashim Thaçi obtained 17.4% of the vote.

The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa totaled 13.1% of the vote. The ousting of reformist Vjosa Osmani – who has since allied himself with Albin Kurti – has cost him dearly. Isa Mustafa resigned the day after the election.

Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) Ramush Haradinaj scored 7.4%.

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