Global Policy Forum

Report Links Top Kosovo Officials to Organ Harvesting

In 2008, the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, alleged that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army had killed Serbian prisoners and harvested their organs.  These claims have not been investigated to date.  However, in December 2010, the Council of Europe released a draft report which substantiates the allegations and suggests that war crimes may have been committed.  Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, is implicated in the report.  The Council has called for national and international investigations.

By Michael Montgomery and Altin Raxhimi

December 14, 2010

A criminal network linked to Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci summarily executed prisoners and harvested their kidneys to sell for illicit organ transplants, Europe's top human rights investigator alleges in a report obtained by BIRN's Balkan Insight, and the US based Center for Investigative Reporting.

Kosovo's government denied the allegations in a statement released on Tuesday evening. The statement denounced the allegations as a smear campaign against the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Kosovo state.

The 27-page draft report will be submitted on Thursday to the Council of Europe's legal affairs committee by Dick Marty, a former Swiss prosecutor who spent more than two years conducting the investigation. Click here to read the full report.

Among the victims referred to in the report were Kosovo Serb civilians who disappeared from under the noses of NATO troops and United Nations officials following their arrival in Kosovo in June 1999.

The report alleges that the organ trafficking was part of a broader web of organised crime activities including assassinations and drug dealing. The report describes Thaci's role in the criminal network as akin to that of a mafia boss.

Thaci himself has repeatedly denied links to organised crime. In a 2009 interview he dismissed reports that KLA operatives ran secret detention camps and engaged in organ trafficking in Albania.

"It just didn't happen," Thaci said. "At any time, in any case, in any place, any space - this has nothing to do with the Kosovo Liberation Army."

The Council of Europe report alleges that the executions and organ extractions allegedly occurred at two locations near the town of Fushe Kruje, 20 kilometres north of the Albanian capital, Tirana. Medical personnel who conducted the operations in a makeshift clinic arranged to ship the organs abroad for what's known as "cadaver transplantations".

Some operatives in the criminal network remained involved in organ trafficking for a decade after the Kosovo war. A recent case involved illicit kidney transplants conducted at a clinic in Pristina, which is now the focus of a criminal investigation. European prosecutors today filed charges in the case in a Pristina courtroom.

The Council of Europe alleges that the organ trafficking ring was set up by Shaip Muja, a former chief medical officer in the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA. Muja is currently a top advisor to Thaci.

Asked whether he was part of an organised crime network as alleged in the report Muja told Balkan Insight on Tuesday: "I have not read the report. These are allegations that have been aired for the past ten years. I will employ all legal means to respond to this."

The findings of the Marty report substantiate allegations aired in a 2008 memoir by Carla del Ponte, the former prosecutor of the Hague war crimes tribunal, ICTY, as well as the findings from a 2009 investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the BBC.

The report states: "The signs of collusion between the criminal class and the highest political and institutional office holders are too numerous and too serious to be ignored.

"It is a fundamental right of Kosovo's citizens to know the truth, the whole truth, and also an indispensable condition for reconciliation between the communities and the country's prosperous future."

The report criticises Western countries, including the United States, for failing to take action to combat organised crime in Kosovo in spite of extensive intelligence reports documenting high levels of corruption.

Among the report's findings:

*An organized crime network that engaged in illegal trafficking, including organ harvesting was controlled by the 'Drenica group'. The group included prominent Kosovo Albanian guerrilla figures. KLA medical chief and current Thaci advisor Shaip Muja was also named as member of the group. Muja  denied the allegations.

*The Drenica group evolved from a guerrilla unit into a band of  'criminal entrepreneurs', involved in illegal detention, torture and murder of ethnic Albanians and other people suspected of collaborating with Yugoslav authorities as well as political adversaries in Albania during the escalation of the conflict in 1998 and 1999.

* Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is named as the 'boss' of the Drenica group. But he "owed his elevation to having secured political and diplomatic endorsement from the United States and other Western powers as the preferred domestic partner in their foreign policy project in Kosovo."

* Albanian intelligence and military officials took part in interrogating people detained by the KLA in Albania.

*Albanian authorities have refused to cooperate with EU inquiries into war crimes and other abuses which allegedly took place in Albania.

* Investigations initiated by UNMIK into allegations of organ harvesting in Albania were not followed up, and evidence collected by investigators was destroyed by ICTY staff in The Hague without conducting an analysis. "We must permit ourselves to express astonishment that such a step was taken," the report states.

* Investigations into organised crime in Kosovo are often unsuccessful due to tightly-knit clan relations among Albanians, according to the report, but it also describes the situation with organised crime as "state capture".

* The recent case of illegal transplants conducted at the Medicus clinic in Pristina is not an isolated episode. "We believe that there are sufficiently serious and substantial indications to demonstrate that this form of trafficking long pre-dates the Medicus case, and that certain KLA leaders and affiliates have been implicated in it previously," the report states.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.