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Allies of Kosovo’s Thaci Raided in Obstruction of Justice Probe

Prosecutors at the Hague war crimes court said raids on the homes of several advisers and allies of former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci this week were part of investigations into the suspected obstruction of justice.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague confirmed it ordered several raids in Kosovo this week as part of investigations by prosecutors into possible obstruction of justice.

During the week, there were raids on the houses of several allies and advisers of former President Hashim Thaci, who is currently on trial in The Hague on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.

The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement released late Thursday night that it is “conducting ongoing operations in Kosovo in an investigation focusing on offences against the administration of justice”.

It did not specify who is being targeted by the investigation or give any details about the suspected wrongdoing. The raids were carried out by officers from the EU rule-of-law mission EULEX and Kosovo Police.

On Friday morning, the mayor of the municipality of Malisheve/Malisevo, Ekrem Kastrati, said in a statement that the municipality “received information that EULEX last night arrested the former mayor, Isni Kilaj”.

One of the raids conducted on Thursday on the orders of the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office was reported to have been carried out at the home of Kilaj, a former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA unit commander and former head of the Malisheve/Malisevo branch of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, which was previously led by Thaci.

Kastrati’s statement condemned the operation against Kilaj. “As a municipality, we believe and are deeply convinced that the Kosovo Liberation Army’s war was a just war and above all else, it was a liberation war,” Kastrati said, demanding that the Specialist Chambers “halt this type of persecution of the liberation” and deal instead with killings of civilians by Serbian forces in the Malisheve/Malisevo municipality in 1998-99.

BIRN contacted the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office for confirmation of Kilaj’s arrest and the charges against him but did not receive any more information by the time of publication.

On Wednesday, there was also a raid at the house of Ismail Syla, a former adviser to Thaci.

Syla’s lawyer, Artan Cerkini, criticised the operation, saying = that “there isn’t any person of average intelligence who would keep something incriminating in their house knowing they could easily be a target for raids”.

On Tuesday, the house of Thaci’s former adviser Artan Behrami was also raided on the orders of the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office. Lawyer Cerkini, who represents Behrami too, told media that the raids were unconstitutional, in particular because “the houses of family members of Behrami were raided although this was not [written] in the order”.

Behrami accused the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office of conducting political operations and of creating the analogy between Serbian forces’ “genocide” in Kosovo and the actions of the KLA, “as if the Kosovo Liberation Army committed a similar thing”.

On Monday, there were also raids at the houses of two other former advisers to Thaci, Blerim Shala and Bashkim Smakaj, who is the former director of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency.

Cerkini, who is also Smakaj’s lawyer, told media after the nine-hour operation that “the court should be very careful when issuing an order for raids because it can violate human rights”.

He said that the raid was part of “an investigation the court has been conducting for some time on obstruction of justice”. But he argued that it violated his client’s constitutional rights and privacy.

In February this year, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office also ordered a raid in the house of another former adviser to Thaci, Adil Behramaj.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up in 2015 by the Kosovo parliament, acting under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, who believed that Kosovo’s own justice system was not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from intimidation. Previous trials at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal were marred by witness-tampering.

In May 2022, the Specialist Chambers convicted the leader of the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation, Hysni Gucati, and his deputy Nasim Haradinaj of obstruction of justice.

Last month, two other men, Ismet Bahtjari and Sabit Januzi, pleaded not guilty to intimidating witnesses in proceedings against KLA ex-guerrillas at the Specialist Chambers.

Source : Balkan Insight