Kosovo Charges Former MP in Land Fraud Case

Kosovo’s special prosecution has filed indictments against 37 people in a major case of organized crime involving senior politicians and judges, and former MP Azem Syla.

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Kosovo’s special prosecution on Tuesday filed two indictments for organized crime and money laundering against 22 and 17 persons respectively.

Both groups were allegedly led by Azem Syla, former member of the Kosovo Assembly from the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, during the 1998-1999 war.

The groups are alleged to have illegally appropriated land near the Kosovo capital, Pristina, by falsifying the ownership documents and by obtaining unlawful court decisions.

The first indictment contains 10 charges relating to organized crime, money laundering, bribery, aggravated fraud, fraud in office, unlawful court decisions, abuse of office, legalization of false assets and fiscal evasion. The second indictment involves 17 persons charged with money laundering. “A structured criminal group with a long-term, organized hierarchy … damaged Kosovo’s state budget and Kosovo Serbian families whose land rights were abused,” the prosecution said.

The prosecution has indicted, among others, Nuhi Uka, a former judge and president of Pristina municipal court, and Hajrullah Berisha, a former local UNMIK official. He allegedly helped the group with court proceedings at the Pristina municipal court and at the Special Chamber of the Kosovo Supreme court.

Syla surrendered to the authorities on April 29, two days after 300 Kosovo and EULEX police launched a large-scale operation to detain him and others. He is currently in detention.

The property connected to the case has been confiscated, and the prosecution has said it aims to “return the land to legitimate public ownership”.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the crime groups were composed of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs and their operations covered both Kosovo and Serbia.

The prosecutor also revealed that the investigation into this case was being aided by “efficient cooperation with the High Prosecution for Organized Crime in Belgrade”.

According to the Pristina-based portal, Insajderi.com, the land in question, worth around 30 million euros, was part of a social agricultural enterprise called Kosovo-Export, after it was nationalized in 1945.

Aided by a Serb, the group reportedly transferred ownership of the land from Kosovo Export to three Kosovo Serbian families without their knowledge, by falsifying their signatures. It was then sold off as private property.

In one case, members of a Kosovo Serb family knowingly signed false ownership papers and authorizations for financial transactions, Insajderi reports.

In February, the authorities in Kosovo published a list of public property that had been illegally taken over, along with the names of around 170 suspects. However, a BIRN investigation found that known PDK-affiliated suspects were not on the list.

 
Balkan Insight
26 October 2016

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