MEPs investigating the use of tax payers’ money for an EU project in Kosovo were told by officials that they could only be told about serious allegations of fraud and corruption “in private” without any journalists present.
The EU mission in Kosovo called Eulex, a ‘law building mission’ designed to integrate Kosovo and develop its legal structure, is the EU’s most expensive enlargement project yet. It employs 1,600 policemen, judges, and prosecutors seconded from around Europe and is by far the EU’s biggest foreign crisis mission.
It costs £87 million a year, a huge chunk of which comes from British contributions. But instead of fighting corruption it has been rocked by allegations it is implicit in the dodgy dealings of Kosovo criminals.
The mission was hit by scandal last week when local newspaper, Koha Ditore, published details from internal files which said that top Eulex officials took bribes from Kosovo gangsters to block prosecutions, colluded with criminal suspects and quashed internal Eulex probes.
The paper also reported that Eulex gave classified information to Serbian intelligence services.
Fernando Gentilini, the EU foreign service’s top manager on the Western Balkans, and Kenneth Deane, a Brit who runs its civilian missions, were supposed to be answering questions from members of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee.
But MEPs were left furious when the officials barely answered their questions and insisted that the meeting was held ‘in camera’.
The Eulex accusations go back to 2012 and include details from letters written by British prosecutor Maria Bahieh to her superiors, accusing her colleagues of corruption.
Ms Bahieh wrote that Jaroslava Novotna, Eulex’ chief prosecutor, and Francesco Florit, the former chairman of Eulex’ Assembly of Judges, had shut down cases in return for money.
The letters said Florit personally received a €350,000 bribe.
They also alleged another senior Eulex official, Jonathan Ratel, was blocking internal Eulex probes into the issue.
But instead of investigating these very serious accusations the only action taken by the mission, which comes under the EU External Action Service, has been to suspend Maria Bamieh. Their reason for suspending her, they say, is that she leaked information to the press; something which is denied by both Ms Bamieh and the newspaper Koha Ditore.
She told EUobserver last week that Eulex’ internal investigation is a “lie … a complete joke” because key suspects are not being questioned and are still being allowed to work on sensitive cases.
And instead of having a positive working relationship with the press which the mission’s chief boasted of, the editor-in-chief of the paper, Agron Bajami, said that they had experienced threats when they tried to get an official comment on the story.
Mr Bajami said that when one of his journalists went to meet Eulex officials “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”.
James Carver, UKIP MEP on the Foreign Affairs committee said the refusal to speak to MEPs about the charges “looks like the beginning of a cover-up.”
Carver said: “Tens of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money is being spent by EU officials in their biggest and most expensive mission ever, the EU ‘law building” mission to Kosovo.
“Kosovo has been a byword for corruption ever since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The country is riddled with organised crime, people trafficking, human organ theft, illegal drugs, war crimes, forced prostitution and every kind of lawlessness.”
Eulex is now under the authority of the EU’s new foreign affairs boss, former Italian communist Federica Mogherini, who previously posed for a photo with Yasser Arafat.