25th Oct 2016

Whistleblower urges external probe into EU mission in Kosovo

  • Koha Ditore reports that Eulex gave confidential information to Serbian intelligence services. (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Only an external investigation can restore faith in Eulex, the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo, Maria Bamieh, the British prosecutor at the heart of corruption revelations has told EUobserver.

The revelations, first published in Kosovo daily Koha Ditore earlier this week, say: that a senior official colluded with suspects in criminal cases; that another official took bribes to shut down prosecutions; and that a third one quashed internal Eulex probes.

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The story cited transcripts of wire-tapped conversations as well as internal letters written by Bamieh to her superiors to alert them of wrongdoing.

In a second story, published on Friday (31 October), Koha Ditore cited other documents showing that Eulex gave confidential information to Serbian intelligence services.

Bamieh told EUobserver on Thursday the EU mission also: turned a blind eye to a miscarriage of justice in a triple-murder case; failed to protect witnesses; and lied to press.

She said two Kosovo men - who are in jail for a bombing in 2007 and for killing three other people the same year - were convicted of the triple murder on evidence “that would never stand up in a British court”.

The men agreed to give Eulex information on the Kosovo mafia in return for promises that Eulex would re-examine the triple-murder case and would guarantee their future safety.

But Bamieh said neither promise has been kept.

“They’ve been spilling their guts out, telling Eulex police everything that’s happening [in Kosovo] … Now they’re saying: 'When Eulex goes [its mandate expires in 2016] everybody knows we’ve been talking and we’re going to be killed' and Eulex is doing nothing for them. There is no lasting protetcion offered to these individuals”.

Referring to the Koha Ditore revelations, she noted: “I don’t know whether I touched on the tip of an iceberg or not, whether it [Eulex corruption] runs a lot deeper … I can only speak about what I found”.

But she added that some EU states’ seconded judges and policemen are more prone to temptation than others’.

“This country is corrupt. Everywhere you look in Kosovo there is corruption. If you bring in senior people [to Eulex] from poor countries, or countries which also have endemic corruption, they are more likely to end up colluding with the locals”.

“I’m not saying that all Italians, all Greeks, or all Romanians [for instance] are bad, but people [Eulex staff] who come from other parts of Europe … are maybe not so susceptible”, she said.

When the Koha Ditore story broke, the EU foreign service, which is in charge of Eulex, said: “Since 2013, Eulex and Kosovo judicial authorities have been pursuing a joint investigation into these allegations. Due diligence has therefore been applied thoroughly”.

Bamieh confirmed that one of the allegedly corrupt Eulex officials named in her letters to superiors - Italy’s Francesco Florit - is under internal investigation.

But she said a second one - the Czech Republic’s Jaroslava Novotna - is not.

She also accused Eulex of deleting emails pertaining to her complaints against Novotna in 2012 in an attempt to “bury” any probe.

Passing the buck

“It’s a lie - there’s an investigation into Florit but not into Novotna”, Bamieh said of the EU statement on “due diligence”.

“It’s a complete joke. I do think there should be an independent investigation and I’ve been saying this from day one”.

“How can the people of Kosovo trust them [Eulex] when they keep lying? … What hope is there for SITF to be able to guarantee safety for witnesses if Eulex doesn’t change?”, she added, referring to the Special Investigative Task Force (SITF), an Eulex unit looking into war crimes allegations against Kosovo politicians, including PM Hashim Thaci.

The British prosecutor said that Fernando Gentilini, an Italian who is the EU foreign service’s top official on the Western Balkans, should be held accountable for the mess.

“I name him because, at the end of the day, Eulex is run by the EEAS [the EU foreign service]. But they always try to pass the buck … they say: ‘It’s not us. It’s the [EU] Council’. The Council says: ‘It’s not us. It’s the EEAS’. Nobody takes responsibility. The EEAS should have some kind of transparency and accountability mechanism for its missions”.

Bamieh is not alone in calling for external oversight.

Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green MEP, said, on Friday, that Eulex “must be duly investigated by an external and independent body”, leading to a potential “reconfiguration and redefinition of the mandate of the whole mission”.

Elmar Brok, a German centre-right MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has put the Eulex scandal on the agenda of its next session, on 3 November.

“We have to listen to the people responsible and decide how to proceed”, he told this website.

Doris Pack, a German centre-right politician and former MEP who has worked on Kosovo since the break-up of former Yugoslavia, also called for an Eulex audit.

“There should be a total check of Eulex, otherwise there will no longer be any trust in it and we will totally lose the right to teach others [about rule of law]”, she told EUobserver.

"When Unmik left, we also heard of similar accusations, but it was too late. Now the EU has to react as soon as possible", Pack added, referring to the former United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (Unmik).

Thanks, but no thanks

EU countries are reluctant to let outsiders look behind the scenes, however.

The EU foreign service gave a confidential briefing on Eulex to member states’ ambassadors in the Political and Security Committee (PSC) on Tuesday.

An EU diplomat familiar with the briefing voiced support for whistleblowers in general, saying: “It’s important to needle [EU] bureaucracy … if there has been improper conduct, then society should know and should care about such things”.

But the diplomat added: “The general conviction [in the PSC] was that it [the Eulex affair] should be handled by an internal process, not by external people. We’ve created internal structures to deal with problems like this, so we should use them”.

The UK - which seconded Bamieh to Eulex after a distinguished carreer in its own Crown Prosecution Service - is toeing the line.

A British foreign office spokesman told this website on Friday: “We are aware of the allegations in the press about the Eulex mission. This is a matter for the mission to respond to”.

EUobserver understands the British embassy in Pristina also on Friday ordered Bamieh to stop talking to media.

A German foreign ministry spokesman said: "We place full confidence in the work of the new as well as in the work of the previous head of mission [Eulex]. Both have contributed and are contributing actively to the investigation".

For his part, Joao Sousa, an SITF spokesman, dismissed Bamieh's concern that Eulex malpractice might harm the SITF’s work by making war crimes witnesses fearful to co-operate.

He told this website the special task force “is a fully autonomous investigative entity based in Brussels, conducting its operational work independently from Eulex”.

“The SITF has its own team of investigators and prosecutors, and has adopted special safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of its documents and the safety of its witnesses”.

But an EU source noted that the SITF is based in Brussels and is to hold future trials in The Hague precisely due to lack of confidence in Eulex and Kosovo courts’ ability to protect informants and follow due process.

Presumption of guilt

Meanwhile, Bamieh is being forced to stay in Pristina to answer questions in an Eulex investigation, launched on Friday, into whether she is the source of the Koha Ditore leaks.

She is forced to stay, protected by Eulex bodyguards, despite receiving death threats from the Kosovo underworld.

Both she and the editor-in-chief of Koha Ditore, Agron Bajrami, say she is not the source of the leaks.

But Eulex suspended her from her post and told press that she had handed over the internal documents before it began the leak investigation on Friday, violating the principle of presumption of innocence.

“I am going to Eulex to receive my charges [on the leak investigation] tomorrow [Friday]”, Bamieh told EUobserver on Thursday.

She noted that she had not intended to go public until she was “frog-marched” out of her office by two Eulex guards in front of her colleagues like a criminal.

“They [Eulex] keep telling the press I’m a crazy woman, a disgruntled employee who wants revenge”, she said.

“I don’t have much, but I have my reputation to protect … I don’t have any grudge against Eulex. I have many good colleagues there and many people there work damn hard”.

She added: “I’m not mad. How dare they attack my mental health?”.

“It’s really awful to suffer all this stress. At times, you begin to doubt yourself. Then you say: ‘But these are the facts. These are the intercepts. These are the texts’,” Bamieh noted, referring to intercepts of illicit conversations between Novotna, who hasn't been suspended, and suspected gangsters.

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