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6th Jun 2020

Investigation

EU and Kosovo corruption: Scratching the surface?

  • Pristina graffiti: How can the EU do better when the next Kosovo arrives? (Photo: Matthijs Gall)

The EU has asked a 72-year old French academic to look at the recent corruption allegations against Eulex, its rule of law mission in Kosovo.

But former EU officials are asking bigger questions, like: How come Eulex prosecutors failed to convict a single high-level suspect in the past five years?

Read and decide

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Europe’s new foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, said on Monday (10 November) that Jean Paul Jacque, who teaches law at the University of Strasbourg in France and the College of Europe in Belgium, will “review” the corruption affair.

He will work pro bono and file a report, which is expected to be made public, in four months.

Mogherini described him as an “independent expert” and said her decision “demonstrates our determination to shed light on these developments”.

Eulex - the EU’s biggest foreign mission, which employs 1,600 people and costs €110 million a year - was launched in 2008 to establish law and order in Kosovo.

But last month Kosovo daily Koha Ditore and an Eulex whistleblower, British prosecutor Maria Bamieh, accused the EU mission of corruption.

Citing leaked documents, they spoke of three episodes between 2011 and 2013 in which Eulex officials colluded with criminal suspects, took a bribe to shut down a case, and quashed an internal affairs probe.

Bamieh also told EUobserver that Eulex’ claim to be doing a thorough investigation into what happened is “a lie … a complete joke”.

MEPs have praised Mogherini for acting quickly, but with EU credibility at stake, there are question marks over Jacque’s independence.

The expert - who was a “director” dealing with justice and home affairs in the EU Council’s legal services from 1992 to 2008 - worked for an institution which drafted the Eulex mandate that he will now assess.

He might be doing the Mogherini job pro bono, but as a former EU official of more than 10 years’ service, he is also eligible for a generous pension.

Based on Jacque’s old pay grade, an EU official estimated the pension “must come to about €5,000 a month”.

There are other question marks over the limitations of his assignment.

A second EU source said Eulex itself will still conduct the criminal investigation which Bamieh mocked.

Meanwhile, Jacque’s role is to check whether Eulex has adequate procedures to prevent corruption and whether it followed due process in the three Koha Ditore/Bamieh cases.

“The scope will cover the same time frame and the same suspects as these allegations. It’s a review. It’s not an investigation or a prosecution as such”, the EU contact noted.

Scratching the surface

For his part, Andrea Capussela, an Italian former official in Kosovo, told this website that even if Jacque's review “gets to the bottom of the allegations, it would only scratch the surface”.

He said the Koha Ditore leaks are “episodic revelations, but there are systemic problems in Eulex”.

Capussela used to run the economic and financial affairs unit in Pristina’s International Civilian Office (ICO) - an EU-US body which supervised Kosovo until 2012 - and is currently writing a book on state building.

His research shows that in all the high-level corruption cases - some 25 of them - which Eulex handled since 2008 not one resulted in the conviction of a suspect from Kosovo’s political elite.

He believes the EU and US have been protecting Kosovo’s big men in what he called “a pact of non-aggression”.

He said the West did it to prove to the wider world that its Kosovo project is a success and because it feared that Kosovo leaders would cause instability if it tried to bring them down.

“There was systemic subversion of the mission’s judicial function … Since the beginning it implemented justice only in small cases. Eulex spokespeople will tell you that it secured 513 verdicts. But these are people who stole apples or cars.”

Capussela said Jacque should ask: “How could the political intention not to go after the elite be transferred to [Eulex] prosecutors and judges?”.

“They were exposed to interference - almost criminal interferece - by their managers”.

He noted that some Eulex prosecutions might have failed due to “innocent incompetence”. But he added: “If you don’t want the [Kosovo] PM to go to jail, then you give the case to an idiot”.

Asked if some EU or US chiefs in Kosovo were themselves corrupt, he said there were many incidents of “serious conflict of interest”.

He pointed to one example in which Christopher Dell, the then US ambassador in Pristina, advised Kosovo to hire US company Bechtel to build an $800 million motorway before stepping down to take a Bechtel job.

Dell could not be contacted for a comment.

But Capussela said the “revolving door” incident “cast a very bad shadow” on Western diplomacy.

Big fish

Pieter Feith - a Dutch diplomat who ran the ICO and who was also the EU's special envoy to Kosovo - rejects Capussela’s political theory.

He told EUobserver on Monday: “I don’t think it [protecting Kosovo leaders for political reasons] crossed anybody’s mind in Brussels, or in my office [the ICO], or in the US embassy”.

But he agrees with Capussela on two things: that Eulex' problems are bigger than the recent revelations and that it will take more than a “review” to put them right.

“Let’s talk about Kosovo’s big fish: None of them ever faced a verdict and I always wondered why that was”, he said.

“Eulex has been going for five years and its results are very meagre. Is it because, in Kosovo society, witnesses don’t want to come forward? Or because of the professionalism of Eulex prosecutors? … If it’s because of corruption, that would be very bad”.

“There are things I recognise [in the Koha Ditore/Bamieh allegations]”, he added.

Feith spoke to this website before the news of Jacque’s appointment.

But he said an effective investigator should “be an independent personality who has experience both in the implementation of rule of law and on the operational side of EU crisis-management missions”.

He also said Mogherini should launch “a broad-based investigation looking at the whole five years” of Eulex’ work.

“It should not just be an auditing exercise. It should look at the overall efficiency and impact of the rule of law mission”.

His ideas have been ignored before.

Turning to the Dell-Bechtel incident, Feith noted: “I thought an investigation by the Americans was something they would want to do. But they said the ambassador had left the service and they didn’t think it worthwhile to investigate further”.

So what?

Mogherni in her statement on Monday said that “clarifying the allegations is in our [the EU’s] interest”, that the current Eulex management has her “support”, and that its “credibility deserves to be fully maintained”.

But EU interests are not the only things at stake.

Feith said: “Since we [Eulex] didn’t achieve any major results, we haven’t made Kosovo a better place - the economy is stagnating, foreign direct investment is not coming in, recognitions may have been more generous - and so ‘stagnation’ is the word of the day”.

His mention of “recognitions” refers to the fact that five EU countries do not recognise Kosovo statehood, posing problems for its EU accession process.

Capussela noted that Kosovo taxpayers - some of Europe’s poorest people - are “paying the price” for corrupt public tenders and for Dell’s motorway.

Going back to EU interests, Feith added: “This is very serious. Our [the EU’s] credibility is at stake with our international partners”.

Capussela said: “Unless we are honest on what we have done in Kosovo, I don’t see how we can do better when the next Kosovo arrives”.

“What if some north African country asks for EU assistance? What if Tunisia, Libya, or, one day, even Syria, asks for our help to build democracy? What kind of help can we give them based on the Kosovo precedent?”.

“It’s essential for Europe to make these interventions in its neighbourhood", he added.

"But we need to be better at it. And the only way to do that is to understand what went wrong in Kosovo”.

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