EU’s largest civilian mission under investigation for corruption

News of a scandal involving claims of corruption in the biggest and most expensive civilian mission of the EU broke on the 27th of October after the publication of an article by Pristina’s leading newspaper Koha Ditore that revealed compromising information on the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in Kosovo. The article implicated EULEX officials in taking bribes in return for closing delicate cases and referred to confidential documents. It also used information allegedly received from Maria Bamieh, a British prosecutor of the mission, who as a result was suspended so that an internal probe into the leakage of classified information could take place.

However, Bamieh denies leaking any information, stating: “They suspended me for giving documents to the press, which I didn’t do. I never gave documents to Koha Ditore. That suspension destroyed my image in Kosovo, so I had to go public”.

What is EULEX?

The EU launched its EULEX mission in 2008 under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) which operates under Resolution 1244 adopted in 1999 by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The mission focuses on three main areas: policing, judiciary and customs, and was created primarily to assist and support the authorities in Kosovo in establishing the rule of law in these areas. EULEX also has an executive mandate to investigate serious crimes such as organized crime, terrorism, corruption and war crimes.

The EULEX mission is scheduled to finish in June 2016 having being extended in June 2014 after Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga and the former EU High Representative Catherine Ashton exchanged letters.

Allegations of corruption

In an interview about the scandal, Bamieh once again denied the claims, stating that she had “never handed them (newspaper Koha Ditore ) or anybody else any documents, I thought it was important that I had to protect my reputation which was being denigrated by EULEX.” The interviewer asked Bamieh to clarify what she was accusing EULEX of and why she had been suspended. Bamieh replied by claiming she had suspected foul play as far back as 2012 saying “I haven’t accused them now, I accused them in 2012. I have come across intercepts in the course of my work which suggests that there is something suspicious going on with the chief EULEX prosecutor and Mr. Francesco Florit (EULEX judge)”.

Koha Ditore had revealed internal letters written by Bamieh directed to her supervisors. In these letters she wrote that her colleagues were carrying out unlawful activities. They referred to EULEX chief prosecutor, Jaroslava Novotna, and former chairman of the EULEX Assembly of Judges, Francesco Florit, closing sensitive cases in return for money in 2012 and 2013. The letters allege that Florit would have received a bribe of 300,000 Euros or more. Another senior EULEX official, Jonathan Ratel, was also supposed to be blocking internal probes into the case. According to the newspaper, EULEX also provided confidential information to Serbian intelligence services. Koha Ditore editors also confirmed that Bamieh was not the source of the leakage.

On the 30th of October, EULEX chief Gabriele Meucci countered the claims of corruption reaffirming that the mission was functioning according to the law and fighting corruption. At a news conference in Pristina she stated that  “We guarantee the citizens that we are operating in accordance with the law. We are interested in and are working on dealing with corruption”.

The EU’s Reaction to the allegations

In a letter written to the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, two senior members of the European Parliament Elmar Brok and Ulrike Lunacek stated that “if the allegations were to be confirmed, it would be a disastrous situation. The credibility of the EULEX mission and of the EU in Kosovo is at stake. The mission’s role in Kosovo is to fight against corruption, and it should set an example”.

Mogherini announced on the 4th of November that an independent legal expert would be appointed to investigate the corruption allegations of judges and prosecutors from the EULEX mission, including their involvement with criminals, the covering up of evidence and any other obstruction that occurred to the investigations. This move was welcomed by many EU officials.

The former head of the economic unit of International Civilian Office (ICO) in Kosovo, Andrea Capussela, claims that the scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, just a glimpse of the wider problems that EULEX is facing.

Capussela examined 15 noteworthy cases that had led to indictments by EULEX and discovered that only four cases had resulted in convictions. Furthermore, Capussela contends that seven of these 15 cases were only undertaken due to external pressure placed on it by the EU and public opinion. He also claims that there are eight cases he examined where “credible and well-documented evidence strongly suggesting that serious crimes had been committed” led to neither an indictment nor even an investigation by EULEX, and suggests that this is not a unique occurrence. EULEX inherited 1,187 cases from the pre-independence United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Should Capussela’s suspicions be validated, then it is highly likely that there are many other cases like these which were not handled appropriately.

*Cover image ‘Graffiti on building on Rr. St. U1. Rexhep Luci ‘ by The Advocacy Project

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