Saturday

10th Dec 2016

EU mission in Kosovo rocked by corruption allegations

  • Eulex vehicles: Allegations prompted a snap press briefing by Eulex on Thursday (Photo: EULEX, Enisa Kasemi)

The EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo, Eulex, is fighting to maintain credibility after allegations of bribe-taking and attempts to gag press.

Eulex’ head, Gabriele Meucci, told reporters in Pristina on Thursday (30 October) his staff are trying to “make Kosovo a better place for its people and their children … they deserve to do their work and go home at night to their families free from the suspicion of corruption”.

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He noted he has “zero tolerance” for graft and that if Eulex spots a problem “we do not sit and wait, we react”.

He added it conducts, on average, 100 internal investigations a year.

Asked if it is true that Eulex put pressure on a Kosovo reporter not to publish revelations of bribe-taking, he said: “Absolutely not. My staff met with media in good faith”.

The same day in Brussels, an EU spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, also said Eulex “leaves no stone unturned” in rooting out corrupt insiders.

She said it has been conducting an “investigation since 2013 into allegations of [the] corruption cases you’ve seen reported in the media”.

Eulex, recently downsized from 2,200 to 1,600 staff, is still the EU’s biggest foreign crisis mission.

The scandal began when Kosovo’s leading daily, Koha Ditore, obtained internal Eulex files indicating that suspects in criminal cases had improper contacts with Eulex officials.

The files also contained letters from a British prosecutor seconded to the EU mission - Maria Bamieh - to her superiors accusing her colleagues of corruption.

The Bamieh letters said Jaroslava Novotna (Eulex’ chief prosecutor) and Francesco Florit (the former chairman of Eulex’ Assembly of Judges) in 2012 and 2013 had shut down cases in return for money.

They said Florit personally received a €350,000 bribe.

They also said another senior Eulex official, Jonathan Ratel, was blocking internal Eulex probes into the issue.

For his part, Agron Bajrami, Koha Ditore’s editor-in-chief, told EUobserver that Meucci was not telling the truth when he said on Thursday that his staff “met with media in good faith”.

Bajrami said that a Koha Ditore reporter, Vehbi Kajtazi, had contacted Eulex for a comment prior to publishing a story on the leaked files.

Good faith?

“They [Eulex] said they were willing to talk on background. But when he [Kajtazi] went to meet them all they wanted to talk about was how difficult life could become for him … to give him the message that if he published the story, he might face criminal prosecution”.

Koha Ditore ran the story - on Monday - anyway.

The Kosovo journalists’ association, AGK, later voiced support, saying “efforts to impede reporters from doing their jobs are unacceptable”.

There are also question marks over the EU claim that Eulex has been investigating the Bamieh allegations since 2013.

The EU’s Kocijancic on Thursday said “I cannot go into names” on who is involved in the internal Eulex probe into the “cases you’ve seen reported in the media”.

But Novotna, Florit, and Ratel have not been suspended from their posts and have kept working on high-level Eulex cases over the past year.

The only person who has lost their job so far is Bamieh.

Eulex suspended the British prosecutor last week after Koha Ditore contacted the EU mission on the leaked files.

EU officials in Brussels on Thursday said she was suspended as a precaution to stop her from leaking more confidential information.

Eulex officials in Pristina are also using her suspension to spin a story that she is a disgruntled former employee trying to take revenge on her ex-bosses.

Accidental whistleblower

But, in an ironic twist, Koha Ditore says she was not the source of the leaked Eulex files and began to speak out against the EU mission only after she was let go.

Apart from speaking to Koha Ditore, she also spoke to AFP, and to another Kosovo daily, Gazeta Express.

She told AFP: "They [Eulex] are wasting the money of the taxpayers. They are doing nothing for the people of Kosovo”.

She told Gazeta Express: “I have been told that I'm in danger. I was told that N.C. [a name withheld by the paper] may come after me because I am exposing some data. He is a cold-blooded killer”.

“I am threatened by Eulex, they are attacking me”, she added, in claims which Meucci also denied.

Children's rights at risk in EU hotspots

Lack of lawyers and other staff has caused logjams on asylum claims, which particularly hurt children, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency told MEPs.

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